Revisit Sembawang through the eyes of Tang Da Wu

10 September 2019
The Straits Times, Life, Page D4

Artist Tang Da Wu is sporting a large bandage over his right eye, but he waves away concern: “It’s just a little scratch.” The contemporary art pioneer has been busy installing works for a new show at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Galleries at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa), the double-bill, Sembawang: The D. D. Land and Sembagraphie.

As he walks among his works, Tang says: “I like making things. I make art every day. If I’m not drawing, I’m making. I make and draw in order to study something.” Art is not the only thing that engages the 77-year-old. Given his age, he says: “I’ve already started preparing for, and celebrating my death. I welcome it happening.” In the meantime, he keeps busy with his artmaking.

Dr Bridget Tracy Tan, 45, director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Art at Nafa, observes: “His mind is always working.” Tang proposed the new show to Dr Tan two years ago after he finished his last Nafa double-bill: Hak Tai’s Bow, Brother’s Pool and Our Children. A tapestry from that show is on display at Artesan Gallery at the Esplanade. In this new show, the performance artist best known for co-founding the landmark Artists Village in 1988, an artists’ collective which promoted experimental art, revisits Sembawang where it was located.

The self-deprecating artist declares about his art practice: “I’m no good by myself. I need people to work with me.” Gesturing around at the works, he adds: “This show is many people’s effort.” Certainly, Sembagraphie, the second part of the double-bill, involves more people: the performance piece will feature about 20 performers from his troupe Stitchen Haus da Opera interacting with a tapestry he has created. He is most animated when talking about his work, at one point breaking into an impassioned reading of William Ernest Henley’s famed Invictus poem, which he is penning on a wooden slab as part of an installation.

Tang was trained in Britain and thus well schooled in European art history. He has a first class honours degree in sculpture from Birmingham Polytechnic’s School of Fine Art as well as a master’s degree in fine arts from Goldsmiths College at the University of London. He is a dedicated arts educator himself and his latest double-bill will be accompanied by workshops and seminars for Nafa students. He declares: “I always think I’m not an artist, but I have made these works. I have my many years of learning and I like to pass it on so I teach.” His advice to budding art students: “Don’t make art. Make questions.”

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Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.