Jakarta. In Disney’s 1989 animated movie “The Little Mermaid,” mermaid princess Ariel dreams about life as a human. When the crab Sebastian, court composer and adviser to Ariel’s father King Triton, learns of Ariel’s ambitions, he tries to show her that the magical world around her is all she could ever ask for and gathers all underwater creatures. Their feel-good song “Under the Sea” is still one of Disney’s most recognizable melodies today.
Just like Sebastian was enchanting Ariel with his song, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) is luring children to its premises with the sixth edition of its much-loved contemporary art exhibition “Imaginarium.”
“In the last iteration of ‘Imaginarium’ in 2015, we brought our young museum-goers on a voyage of big ideas,” says co-curator John Tung.
“This year, we looked to inspire similar experiences of wonderment and mystery. In conceiving of the oceans as the last frontier on the planet Earth still largely unknown to us, we felt that explorations of the oceanic theme would be most fitting for this year’s edition and therefore titled it ‘Over the Ocean, Under the Sea.’”
Through interactive and immersive contemporary artworks, he adds, SAM aims to share with visitors — both young and young-at-heart — big ideas about the impact of humans on the natural world and the importance of conserving the oceans’ ecosystems.
The exhibition includes tactile and interactive artworks designed to encourage discovery through exploration and a playful approach. The works have been created by artists from different countries, among others from Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan.
“Discovery, explanation and learning-through-play are some key tenets we adhere to in the conceptualization of children-focused exhibitions at SAM,” John Tung explains.
“In this regard, we look to maintain a diversity of art mediums, as well as visual and tactile textures in the works that we select for the exhibition. We looked to artists whose practices already share, or were interested in exploring the exhibition’s thematic concerns in a context suitable for younger audiences.”
Indonesian artist Mulyana’s piece “Di mana Mogus?” (Where is Mogus?) is a colorful mixed media installation, made primarily from yarn in intricate details. It depicts a marvelous underwater scene which is overlooked by Mogus, an octopus monster that has sprung from the mind of Mulyana — he calls him his alter ego.
“The process of making something small and meditative that eventually comes together to become something big and amazing — much like God’s creations — is my first inspiration. Mogus is my alter ego, so Di mana Mogus? is saying that I am small, looking for God,” Mulyana says.
Mulyana chose to work with yarn for this installation for many reasons — also practical ones.
“Yarn is colorful, easy to obtain and suitable to bring anywhere,” explains the artist, who also regularly creates pen and ink drawings and wants to explore combining art and food in the future.
“I am happy because the theme of the exhibition matches the themes of my artworks this year and in the past. There is a continuity, and this has allowed my works to develop an underwater home for Mogus.
Another Indonesian contribution, “Suara Muara” ("The Sounds of the Estuary") for the exhibition comes from Yogyakarta-based Papermoon Puppet Theatre. The art installation pays tribute to Lasem, a small town in North Java that used to be an important port city. Today, only 50 000 people live in Lasem, many of which are still fishermen. Papermoon’s exquisite work takes visitors on an aural journey that present sounds of the past.
In addition to the exhibition, workshops and performances, film screenings and storytelling sessions ensure that the children keep coming back for more.
“Education and outreach is core aspect at Singapore Art Museum, with curator-led tours, docent tours, as well as educator tours, and various programmes supporting each exhibition we set up,” says John Tung when asked about the importance of curating exhibitions for children.
“This array of programs has been designed to play an important role in developing art audiences of the future, whilst enhancing their understanding and appreciation of the issues explored through our exhibitions.”
Aside from touching on issues affecting society and the world at large, contemporary art has the capacity to speak about our place in the world, inspiring sensitivity and humanistic values, John Tung adds.
“Introducing the non-verbal language of contemporary arts to younger audiences allows us to explore serious issues impacting the world today in depth, all whilst expanding the imagination and fostering creativity,” he explains.
Mulyana echoes the sentiment of the curators, as he sees art as a gift that needs to be shared.
“To enjoy art, you have to see, listen and touch,” he says. “So I want the younger audiences to feel and rejoice in their own gift through my artwork, and maybe become inspired to make their own artwork later.”
Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea
Until August 28
SAM at 8Q