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An Exhibition That Brings Art Out of the Museum and Into a Mall

By Hillary Kang

Allison M. Low's collaboration with Love, Bonito at Funan.

Art exhibitions are typically associated with hallowed museums and exclusive spaces. It's a notion that this year's edition of the annual Singapore Art Week sought to change: With the overarching theme of “Art Takes Over”, the week-long festival saw myriad exhibitions and installations pop up across the island in the most unlikely of places.

One of these exhibitions is Creative Unions, a collaboration between local art collective Neighborhood and Funan which saw 10 art installations set up at various stores and spaces around the mall.

As Neighborhood's members explain, they wanted to bring art out of the museum not just to give artists more exposure, but also to democratise it and make it more accessible to the public.

“Our objective is to create a positive impact in the community, whether it's in a typical residential estate or a mall in the city centre,” says Neighborhood member Ethan Lee. “[Creative Unions] calls for the letting go of outdated approaches to both retail and art after such a disruptive year, and it does so by envisioning an imaginative, collaborative future for both the retail and art industries.”

Nur Aida Sa'ad's collaboration with Butterknife Folk at Funan.

Each of the 10 art installations were created through lengthy dialogue between the artist, the store, and Neighborhood. One such collaboration is graphic artist Nur Aida Sa'ad's work with local gelato brand Butterknife Folk.

Inspired by life's small joys — something put into sharp relief by 2020's lockdown — the collaboration birthed 12 exclusive new flavours, including “Misty morning at Clementi Forest” (an earthy rosemary matcha gelato with mixed berry coulis), “Moonlight Prata-ta” (fish curry gelato and, yes, prata shreds) and the sardonically named “Avocado Toast (or why I can't afford a house)”, which features smashed avocado and lime gelato with croutons and chilli flakes. Aida also designed a complementary series of items for Butterknife Folk that ranged from a kinetic wall installation to a series of enamel pins that are available from a retro gum ball machine in the store.

Other collaborations include an installation at Love, Bonito's store by artist Allison M. Low that celebrates modern women, and an otherworldly mushroom-inspired exhibit at the mall's rooftop garden by Edible Garden City and Bewilder.

Neighborhood’s Ethan Lee, Vincent Li, and Aravin Sandran.

Neighborhood's members acknowledge the dissonance in putting art up in a space as commercialised as a mall. They say that the divide between commercialism and art has “blurred” in recent years.

Neighborhood member Vincent Li says: “It's a phenomenon that's growing in the mainstream today with the rise of artists like KAWS. For example, Takashi Murakami and Yayoi Kusama have both straddled their art world reputations with commercial success, [and have] collaborations with brands like Louis Vuitton and Veuve Cliquot.”

But beyond bringing art to a wider audience, Neighborhood’s members say that they also have a deeper goal: To ensure that artists from all backgrounds are given a fair platform to exhibit their work.

“Artists' voices are important in shaping our society and environment,” says Neighborhood director Aravin Sandran. “A major challenge facing Singapore's art institutions is that a large portion of ethnic-minority Singaporeans feel like there's a lack of validation of their experiences in traditional art spaces — but now, beyond the confines of a museum or gallery, public art can enable greater accessibility without tokenism.”