The Creative Class
Esquire Singapore|May 2021
Singapore has long been known as a business hub. A global transit point. Renowned for its food. But over the past decade, a new generation of emerging talent has redefined what it is to be Singaporean, pushing the boundaries of the state’s creative capital through a completely unique cultural viewpoint. Now, being Singaporean and creative are not mutually exclusive. In partnership with innovative watchmaker Swatch, on these pages we explore, celebrate and rethink what it means to be inventive in Singapore by shining a spotlight on the artists, designers, performers and entrepreneurs bringing to the world ideas and artistry never seen before.
Wayne Cheong, Asri Jasman, Mitchell Oakley Smith, Ishan Singh and Derrick Tan

FIRDAOS PIDAU

FOOTWEAR DESIGNER

“Art is essential more than ever right now. We need more art,” Firdaos Pidau affirms. The footwear designer is by no means a beginner in the world of fashion, and especially in luxury footwear. A scholarship graduate of London College of Fashion’s prestigious Cordwainers course, Pidau was afforded the opportunity to undergo a paid internship for a year with renowned shoe designer Charlotte Olympia, before scoring another internship with mega-brand Zara. His return to Singapore in 2018 saw him joining local footwear brand Charles & Keith, a role that sees him redirecting the brand towards more original fashion-forward designs. “Creativity to me is about creating possibilities. It is about finding the best solutions. It is about improving the quality of life in big and small ways,” he says. Having been part of a more inclusive culture where creativity and the arts are given the same standing as more professional pursuits, Pidau opines that Singapore’s art scene could do better in supporting its bevy of talented individuals and “not only when it is profit-driven or parallel to some conservative and outmoded agenda”. AJ

KATHY ANNE LIM

PHOTOGRAPHER

There are only so many cliches one can sift through before they throw up their arms in resignation or think, ‘Well if no one will, I guess I’ll do it.’ Kathy Anne Lim opts for the latter; pushing against the grain of the tried-and-tested in a bid to bring into existence something purposeful in a feckless world. Her weapon of choice: the camera. And all about her, Lim is assailed with imagery online and through garish advertisements seen on her daily commute. With this constant bombardment of visuals, Lim has to sift through the noise and present concepts that are difficult to grapple with, have yet to be seen or are presented in a new lens. Singapore isn’t the most nurturing place for art to be appreciated or to thrive in. “Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford.” Lee Kuan Yew’s famous remark in the 1960s still resonates today with the 2020’s Sunday Times survey, where the occupation of ‘artist’ tops the list of the most non-essential workers during the pandemic. “What we lack [are places that] allow for experimentation supporting artists and creatives to try new materials or software,” Lim says. But as the pandemic casts a pallor over the world, like so many of her creative contemporaries, Lim continues her art even though she’s not pointing a camera directly at her subjects. Perhaps it is during this time, where there is more of an appreciation for the creative industries as a whole. When you’re cooped up at home, your only distractions are the arts to indulge in: you lose yourself in a good book, you binge on Netflix, you start to paint. “But that’s the global output from other countries [that] still dominates,” Lim avers. “However, in terms of appreciating the local creative industry, there is a disconnect and there is a possibility the appreciation for the community hasn’t changed at all.” Lim has recently worked on “White Noise”, a project that focuses on impermanence and displacement. Exhibited at the Singapore International Photography Festival, near the tail end of 2020, it will be shown in Hong Kong and New York later in 2021. Lim is also concentrating on a personal survey of the Southeast Asian migratory landscape. “Having two grandmothers of multicultural ethnicities—my Peranakan, Straits Chinese-Malay paternal ‘Mama’ and my Eurasian, Dutch maternal ‘Nan’—acts as both a geographical study and inquiry into my ancestry.” WC

EMAN RAHARNO JEMAN AND NADIRAH ABDUL RAZAK

FOUNDERS, INK AND CLOG STUDIO

A husband-and-wife duo who’ve spent over a decade shaping Singapore’s visual art scene. In fact, Eman Raharno Jeman and Nadirah Abdul Razak’s story goes all the way back to 2004 when they first met at a local graffiti competition. Today, the urban art influence continues to shine through in their projects—with murals which look equally impressive, whether they’re painted along the terrace of a Hong Kong high-rise or on the hood of a Mercedes-Benz CLA.

The two have seen their work evolve as well, into experiments in graphite and acrylics. It’s only fitting, being they’re from a city characterised by diversity. “Singapore has pockets of different movements,” they say. “From illustrations to fine arts, urban arts to installations. On top of that, it’s a blend of local culture and western influence. We are a hybrid of identities.” Both are optimistic about Singapore’s future of creativity, drawing a silver lining around these times of pandemic. “With society given this chance to slow down and reset through self-reflection, we hope that it leads to more individual expression. We are confident that the future will continue to change people’s views towards creatives for the better.” IS

ANDRÉ WEE

EXPERIMENTAL ILLUSTRATOR

Art and technology certainly can thrive and coexist. Using digital techniques, 2D illustrations can come alive in 3D. Experimental illustrator André Wee discerns this by welding his brush deftly and creates such animate works from melding the virtual and physical. The Rhode Island School of Design graduate’s bold imagery paved new ways to engage his audience with embedded creative storytelling via his company, Studio André Wee. Wee’s art has caught the attention of clients such as Apple and Google and he is frequently involved with the environmental awareness efforts of MeshMinds Foundation. He recently experienced quarantine upon returning to Singapore and wasted no time in tapping his creativity. “Rejecting the lockdown baking trend, I got into retrofitting old-school GameBoys with modern-day upgrades like a rechargeable USB-C battery and an LCD screen without any prior experience in electronics or game-making,” Wee says. “This got me thoroughly interested in creating 8-bit video games as art and [I] experienced the stories I wrote and created.” Wee was also able to share more videos that record his work processes on social media to help give insight to not only techniques but also the thought process and creative industry’s iterative nature. DT

MYRNE

DJ AND PRODUCER

“There isn’t a singular blueprint for breakthrough success. In Singapore, we don’t have any idols to look up to, and we’re all winging it a little bit. On top of that come laws that tend to stifle many forms of creative expression. So, the uniqueness of the Singaporean [creativity] model manifests itself in lucky individuals shattering ceilings every couple of years, each on their unique, irreproducible journeys,” DJ and producer Manfred Lim aka Myrne expresses. “Creativity for me is never measured in the value of an end product, but in moments of struggle, breakthrough and resolution. To be ‘creative’ should be to continually question your methods of creation and the thought processes that surround it.” Being the first Singaporean act to be included at acclaimed international dance festivals Ultra Miami and Tomorrowland, the classically trained pianist broke down walls with his musical versatility that spreads through his compositions. Despite quarantine and lockdown, Myrne worked on Wandering, a seven-track EP, after his debut album In Search of Solitude. “Ironically, most of it was inspired by free-roaming, travel, nature and spontaneity—all of which were missing last year. I’m extremely proud of it because I managed to accomplish goals that I promised myself to do when I was writing the previous album.” DT

KEYANA

MUSICIAN, MODEL, DANCER, AND CHOREOGRAPHER

R&B musician Keyana shocked and delighted the audience at the annual Chingay Parade earlier this year when she performed ‘Moonlight in the City (a hit Mandarin song originally performed by Mavis Hee) live and in the song’s native tongue. Born to Ghanaian and Singaporean Chinese parents, the singer-songwriter (as well as model, dancer, and choreographer) performs confidently in English and Mandarin, with her unique mixed heritage, something Keyana embraces in her artistry. “What makes Singaporean creatives unique is how you can see the cultural background or influence through their various forms of art and expression,” she explains. Following the success of her late-2020 release, ‘Scorpio’, Keyana is currently working on her debut EP, slated to drop later this year. “It’s going to be a collection and representation of my emotions, reflections, and experiences growing up. It’s a very personal project and I cannot wait to share this piece of myself with the world.” MOS

CHIA CHING KAI

SET DESIGNER

“No creative ecosystem is alive without its people,” artist Chia-Ching Kai says. It’s an idea which he has become well-accustomed to over his years designing sets for local theatre productions. From Ivan Heng’s Romeo and Juliet in 2012 to Glen Goei’s La Cage Aux Folles in 2017, his scene-setting prowess has even seen him at the helm of art direction for the Singapore Theatre Festival. For Chia, thinking about Singapore’s creative scene brings to mind not only the creators and performers but the audience as well. “Sometimes, as creatives, we think we are feeding the public,” he explains. “But, in reality, we’re also being shaped and nurtured by those whom we imagine ourselves creating for.” He believes the pandemic helped shine a light on this relationship between artist and audience. “I think the circuit-breaker period made people realise how they’ve been taking creative works—whether it’s literature, television or live music—for granted. I believe when we now have conversations about the arts, people no longer feel like it has little to do with them,” Chia says. IS

GOOD LUCK CHUCK

COMPRISING DJ-PRODUCER PERK PIETREK AND MULTIINSTRUMENTALIST DIREWULF

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