S.E.A. Focus Report

A new platform for Southeast Asian art
By A&M

Gabriel Loy, Dipali Gupta and Khairulddin Bin Abdul Wahab speaking on “Art-Making in Singapore: Opportunities and Challenges”. Image courtesy of S.E.A. Focus.

Gabriel Loy, Dipali Gupta and Khairulddin Bin Abdul Wahab speaking on “Art-Making in Singapore: Opportunities and Challenges”. Image courtesy of S.E.A. Focus.

S.E.A. Focus ran from 23 to 27 January at Gillman Barracks. One of the highlights of Singapore Art Week, 26 galleries from Southeast Asia, with works from 54 artists were presented at the fair.

The boutique showcase included talks by practising local artists, Dipali Gupta, Khairulddin Bin Abdul Wahab and Gabriel Loy on “Art-Making in Singapore: Opportunities and Challenges” as well as other artists and key players in the market such as Aaron Seeto, director of Museum MACAN. This ranged from themes that raised questions about growing interest in the Southeast Asian art market, fostering diversity in the art ecosystem, as well as building an artistic discourse beyond the market.  

The fair focused on the growing possibilities of the regional market. “It is both challenging and fulfilling to be able to shape and present S.E.A. Focus, building on reputations and capabilities of our galleries for both local and international audiences,” says Emi Eu, executive director of STPI Gallery, which initiated S.E.A. Focus. “STPI will build upon the success of S.E.A. Focus to increase awareness and raise the profile for Southeast Asian art.”

Following the sudden cancellation of Art Stage Singapore, S.E.A. Focus provided the space for a smaller, more intimate affair with art. Spanning across two tents and a unit on Block 9 at Gillman Barracks, the fair was complemented by other art events taking place at galleries nearby.

Nguyen Manh Hung, ‘Checkpoint’, 2016, cast bronze, 35 x 35 x 40cm. Image courtesy of Galerie Quynh.

Nguyen Manh Hung, ‘Checkpoint’, 2016, cast bronze, 35 x 35 x 40cm. Image courtesy of Galerie Quynh.

For Vietnam-based Galerie Quynh, the boutique fair format presented a significant advantage over large-scale art shows. “We appreciate the boutique fair as the intimate scale allowed us to have long discussions with collectors and other fair-goers,“ says director Quynh Pham. “From a networking standpoint, it has been wonderful to reinforce the relationships we have here. We have enjoyed the opportunity to be back in Singapore and for the chance to reconnect with so many old friends, and the chance to meet new ones.”

Similarly, RUCI Art Space from Indonesia had a good outing at the fair. Most of the artworks by Natisa Jones, Randhinal Indra and Julian Abraham “Togar” were sold. These went to private collectors from Indonesia and Singapore.

Japanese gallery Tomio Koyama and Manila-based The Drawing Room also made returns to Singapore. Both galleries previously had spaces in Gillman Barracks and featured outstanding solo presentations of Shooshie Sulaiman from Malaysia and Filipino veteran artist Manuel Ocampo respectively.

Yeo Kaa, ‘WUD YA DO IT’, 2019, Installation view at S.E.A. Focus. Image courtesy of Yavuz Gallery.

Yeo Kaa, ‘WUD YA DO IT’, 2019, Installation view at S.E.A. Focus. Image courtesy of Yavuz Gallery.

On the local front, artcommune sold one work by pioneer modern artist Cheong Soo Pieng, which coincided with a major solo exhibition of the artist at STPI. Yavuz Gallery presented Filipino artist Yeo Kaa’s solo presentation, ‘WUD YA DO IT’, kicking off the show with a performance that involved cracking open a piñata, which splashed bright paint across artworks on the walls. “SEA Focus brought the Singapore arts community back together,” says Gallery Executive Caryn Quek. “It was great to see everyone come together and be part of this. The audience loved the performative aspect of Yeo Kaa's presentation and the fact that the paintings were completed in the presence of hundreds of people.”

Installation view of S.E.A. Focus. Image courtesy of S.E.A. Focus.

Installation view of S.E.A. Focus. Image courtesy of S.E.A. Focus.

Response to A&M queries about the fair has been rather muted. While the programmes for S.E.A. Focus were well-attended, the impact it has in promoting regional art remains uncertain. Using Meltwater statistics, the Share of Voice (SOV) — which measures how much of a talking point an event was on social media — for S.E.A. Focus was at 8.4%, while the percentage for Singapore Art Week stood at 43.8%.

New art fairs abound in the region this year, with the recently concluded S.E.A. Focus and Art SG launching in November. In Jakarta, Art Moments will open in May, and a rebranded Art Jakarta will be presented at the end of August. It will be interesting to see how each fair shapes up and makes an impact on the regional art scene in the next couple of years, and who will have staying power.