ELIZABETH GABRIELLE LEE
“I’m interested in the notion of slow violence,” says Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee. The term, which was originally used to describe violence on the climate, has been borrowed by the 26-year-old to apply to postcolonialism and how it influences the spaces we live in. Space is an especially important part of this equation – Lee, a Singaporean, lives and works in London.
Her most recent and ongoing work, We’ve Got The Sun Under Our Skin, is a photographic series that inverts the colonial gaze. It’s based on colonial literature about Malaya from the 1800s by British ethnologists and anthropologists who were recording the region’s people, flora and fauna. “The language is alarming. Landscapes, women and people were fetishised,” Lee says of the texts she found.
She proceeded to tear pages from these source texts, scrawled out portions of it – leaving in relevant passages – then set to work lensing these subjects in her own way. “In a primal sense, it felt like I was trying to reclaim these landscapes and people,” she says.
“There’s a weird double bind,” she admits of the project. The “weird, imperial” gaze is simultaneously reproduced and reversed, and the work confronts notions of who controls and produces knowledge, and the effects that language can have on our modern identities. These colonial writers brought their wildly ornamental accounts back to the West, and Lee describes her work as a similar violence of erasure that she is enacting on imperial history.
That’s not to say, however, that she takes such a retributional approach to our colonial history. “It’s an attempt to resurface things from a new perspective and address the colonial past,” she explains. Leaving the work open for a viewer to interpret is critical to Lee, who says her approach avoids “prescriptivism and using completion as a black and white” marker. That liminal space for one to decide whether the work is more critique or an alternative form of presentation prevents – in her words – an “essentialism that puts representation in a pigeonhole”.
Lee’s 2018 project, The Unusual Powers Of Disposing, deals with a similar idea of subverting perspectives. That work stems from research around Christmas Island, where colonial British rulers used indentured labour to mine tricalcium phosphate, a profitable natural resource. In it, she offers visual intervention by juxtaposing stills from a corporate video by a mining company that works off the island with archival imagery of the mining sites and work conditions in the ’20s as well as text from the company’s own documents. The result is quietly damning.
Lee had in fact stumbled upon the subject of Christmas Island and phosphate mining by chance when she was looking up her own ancestry based on oral history about her great-grandfather. When she looked into the British archives, she found instead this history of the island that had been “tucked away and never dealt with”. As for her great-grandfather? “I found nothing. I guess it’s a way of me grieving and reacting to what I found in his place.”
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Tiger tiger, burning bright
FELIPE OLIVEIRA BAPTISTA IS REMAKING KENZO FOR A MODERN AGE, TAPPING AS MUCH INTO THE ARCHIVES AS ITS FOUNDING JAPANESE DESIGNER’S ETHOS OF CULTURAL CURIOSITY FOR HIS DEBUT THIS SEASON. GORDON NG REPORTS ON HOW HE’S CONTINUING KENZO TAKADA’S LEGACY.
A Fall/ Winter 2020 Collection Report
(And some of the asian models who commanded the season’s runways)
A Place In The Sun
For the multitude of differences that we ought to recognise and embrace, there are some things that Asian women in general share in common when it comes to discussing matters of the skin. For example, scientific studies have shown that the all-protective, outermost layer of the complexi0n known as the stratum corneum in asian women is thin. We also are more prone to pigmentation because of higher levels of melanocyte activity. At the same time, the region’s humidity means that our sebaceous glands – which asians tend to have more of – can overreact (hands up if oily skin bothers you) while UV rays and pollution levels have made sensitised skin a growing condition here. All launched this year, the products on the next two pages don’t claim to cover the skincare concerns of all Asian women, but they do help tackle some of the most common. And – in the spirit of this edition’s theme – they’re all created by brands with roots in asia. Sofia Kim reports.
LOCAL LABEL BEYOND THE VINES HAS COME A LONG WAY SINCE ITS TO MENTION STORES IN FIVE COUNTRIES), IT’S THE ARCHETYPE OF A, ’ INCEPTION FIVE YEARS AGO. WITH AN EXTENSIVE REBRANDING IN SINGAPORE FASHION LABEL MADE GOOD. SO WHO BETTER TO DISCUSS. PROCESS AND A NEWLY OPENED CONCEPT SPACE AT NGEE ANN CITY (NOT THE STATE OF SINGAPORE FASHION RETAIL TODAY? BY KENG YANG SHUEN
On the up
FROM AN IRANIAN MILLINER CRAFTING FANTASTICAL HATS THAT RESEMBLE SCULPTURE TO A GENDER-FLUID HONG KONG LABEL CHALLENGING TRADITIONAL NOTIONS OF MASCULINITY, THE SEVEN EMERGING BRANDS FEATURED HERE SHARE ONE THING IN COMMON: FOUNDERS WITH ROOTS IN ASIA – AND BOLD IDEAS THAT THE WORLD SHOULD KNOW ABOUT. KENG YANG SHUEN REPORTS.
What Does It Mean To Be Asian?
What does it mean to be asian? That question is so large, so vast, that answering it is nearly impossible. The truth is that Singaporeans today straddle multiple cultural identities: our own ethnic heritage, our place in the world as global citizens and our communal sense of a nation. So instead of trying to find an unattainable answer, we went in search of the particular. Image-making has the power of influencing how we view, imagine and define ourselves. Through their work and research, the three Singapore image-makers we spoke to here each deal with specific perspectives of asian-ness. All start unsurprisingly from some place (or something) personal then delve into bigger, more mercurial ideas: the dominance of eurocentric beauty ideals; the challenge of conceiving and creating a postcolonial identity; the fragility of heritage and history in a modern world. And in doing so, each offers a different viewpoint on what it means and looks like to be asian. Gordon NG goes in for a close-up.
Asia's True Top Models
A diversity report on the fall/winter 2020 runway season by the fashion spot – drawn from 194 shows that took place in the four major fashion week cities – found that 40.6 per cent of models cast were people of colour. In contrast, when the popular online portal started tallying diversity reports five years ago with the spring/summer 2015 season, that figure was 17 per cent. It’s commendable change, some might say – one that reflects the fashion industry’s growing interest in and recognition of the importance of representing a wide range of faces and ethnicities. Based in different parts of asia, the three modelling agencies featured here aren’t just vital players in this revolution; they’re expanding the conversation by championing specifically models from home. Gordon NG finds out how they’re changing the look and perceptions of Asian beauty.
The Power Of Joy
K-pop has undoubtedly been one of the biggest cultural exports out of asia and the same might just go for one of the scene’s most popular young female stars of the moment: the chameleonic style icon and multi-hyphenate entertainer joy.
In 2019, Louis Vuitton introduced its Artycapucines project, which invites leading international artists to reimagine its Capucines tote – named after the Parisian street on which the brand opened its first boutique and known for its extensive craftsmanship. For the second edition – limited to 200 pieces worldwide per design – hitting selected stores (including the one here at Ngee Ann City) on oct 30, the Maison Ropes in for the first time two asian names: Xinjiang-born Zhao Zhao and Beijinger Liu Wei. Here, an exclusive with these chinese luminaries on their art and how they’ve transformed an artisanal handbag into a true objet d’art. Keng Yang Shuen reports.
Fortune Favours The Boh
Fashion PR, writing, modelling – bohan qiu has tried his hand at all of them. In a way, the Shenzhen-born 26-year-old exemplifies the contemporary fashion multi-hyphenate with his latest turn being the entrepreneur behind boh project, a PR and digital content agency based in Shanghai. Founded last year, the company is already staking a claim in the chinese fashion scene, counting clients that range from giants (calvin klein, selfridges) to emerging names. Among the latter is the fashion and art presentation platform Xcommons, which made global headlines in march for producing a virtual reality presentation for the chinese labels Xu Zhi, Andrea Jiapei Li and Roderic Wong, and garnering over 4.8 million visits within the first day. So who better to speak to for insights into the fascinating, fast-moving and growing chinese fashion industry?