The Multi Hyphenate
Her World Singapore|November 2020
Artist, writer, curator, filmmaker– Singapore Literature Prize 2020 winner Shubigi Rao talks all about transcending boundaries.
Donna Tang

You might be forgiven for thinking of Shubigi Rao as a writer, since her book Pulp II: A Visual Bibliography of the Banished Book just swept the Singapore Literature Prize 2020 for Creative Nonfiction in English, but the multitalented 45-year-old really defies definition.

For one thing, Mumbai-born Shubigi is also an award-winning multi-disciplinary artist who makes layered installations of films, books, etchings, drawings, pseudo-scientific machines, metaphysical puzzles, video works, ideological board games, and archives, and who will be exhibiting in a major biennial and triennial next year. For another, she was unanimously selected to curate the fifth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, South Asia’s biggest visual arts event, which begins in December. She's also a filmmaker, with two new films in the works.

“I see very little separation between my artistic and literary work,” she explains. “Drawing is as much a primary impulse as language – both are rich yet incredibly flawed forms of communication.”

However, she prefers the term “artist”, precisely for its flexibility. “It gives me the freedom to research and make work in almost any field, to be critical, informed and openly opinionated, to switch between conceptual frameworks, and to teach myself new things, media, and ideas when needed.”

THE MEDIUM MUST BEST SERVE THE IDEA

While she loves film and paperwork, Shubigi often teaches herself a new medium because an idea demands it. “I’ve made video and film, text-based work, sound-pieces, art books, satirical board games, ceramic builds, a lot of printmaking, especially intaglio and aquatint, even more ink on paper and drawings, installations of found and repurposed objects, performance-lectures, quasiscientific work like building neuroscientific machines under a male pseudonym for 10 years, and so on,” she lists.

This versatility informs the richness and depth of her work. Her decade-long Pulp project, about the history of book destruction, takes the form of art, film and books, with Pulp II being only volume two of five books planned.

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