May 7, 2010 / 9:19 AM / 9 years ago

Singapore visual artist revives magic of cinema

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - As traditional theatres across the world give way to modern new multiplexes, one Singapore artist is trying to keep the romance of the big screen alive.

Visual artist Ming Wong’s exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum isn’t just about cinema: it’s also a peep into the unique hybrid culture of Singapore and its three main ethnic groups — Chinese, Malay and Indian.

In “Life of Imitation,” Wong revisits the Golden Age of Singapore cinema in the 1950s and 60s, when films brought the three ethnic groups together through a mix of video, billboards, old posters and other movie paraphernalia.

He uses three short video films to examine the unusual culture: one features three actors from the main ethnic groups taking turns to play a black mother and her white daughter in a scene from Douglas Sirk’s Hollywood melodrama “Imitation of Life.”

In another video, the artist has a Caucasian actress playing two lovers in an adaptation of Hong Kong film-maker Wong Kar Wai’s film on love and infidelity, “In the Mood for Love,” set in Hong Kong in the 60s.

“In the 50s and 60s there was a thriving film industry. In this rich cultural milieu, cinemas were owned by Chinese, films were directed by Indians and the performers were Malay,” Wong told Reuters.

“I wanted to use this to look at the concept of cultural identity.”

The exhibition was originally commissioned by the National Arts Council of Singapore at the Venice Biennale last year where it got a special mention from the jury, the highest ever honor for any artist from the Southeast Asian nation.

Wong says his work exploring the shifting nature of identity and culture is aimed at looking at what makes a Singaporean.

“I like to use cinema as a vehicle for national identity,” Wong said.

“The show is very pertinent today because the demographic is changing. It’s the right time to look back at where we came from so we can see where we go from here.”

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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