“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Chong Huai Seng

    1984 was a memorable year but not because of George Orwell’s book, Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was the year I got married and Ning was born. It was also the year when Milan Kundera wrote his novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. This novel was made into a film in 1988, and starred Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche; the last was my crush for French movie stars since.

    In many ways, the novel and the film brought back memories of childhood and of the idyllic days living in a different world. It was about the Prague Spring in 1968, when I was still a student in Singapore and yet feeling very much for the suffering of the Czech people. Their new leader Alexander Dubcek, who was trying to introduce political reforms, was promptly arrested, and the Soviets together with the Warsaw Pact Army marched into the country and pretty much took control of everything until the collapse of Soviet Union in 1989.

    The invasion and the creative resistance of the Czech people inspired music and literature and it left a deep impression on me as a kid on the evils of totalitarianism. Kundera’s novel is a modern classic of love and politics, set against the backdrop of the invasion and asked some very relevant questions about life, love, sex, marriage, religion and the universe. So although it was firmly rooted in its time, it seems as relevant now as when it was first published.

    I liked particularly the philosophical debate in the novel about an individual’s fate; the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche held the concept of eternal recurrence, which postulates the idea that the universe and its events have already occurred and will recur ad infinitum, therefore they impose a ‘heaviness’ on life and that such heaviness could either be a tremendous burden or a great benefit depending on an individual’s perspective. Against this, Kundera chronicles the fragile nature of an individual’s fate. Each person has only one life to live and that which occurs in life, occurs only once and never again, thus the ‘lightness’ of being. Moreover, he portrays love as fleeting, haphazard and probably based on endless strings of coincidences despite holding much significance for humans.

    I am writing this introduction for our inaugural show at The Culture Story by referencing Kundera’s classic, as I believe like his book, art can be a great connector of people and a reflector of our society. Art should not be just visually attractive or provocative but art has to tell a story about the artist and the collector, and their place in the universe of time. Just like Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, art can be emotive, art should inform history, art must question our status quo of comfort and consent, turmoil and pain.

    The thirteen artists featured in this show are people with stories to tell, they come from Singapore, China, Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia. This group of artists are mostly in their senior years of practice and are known for their mixed media and abstract works, representing the second generation of pioneer modern and contemporary artists from each of their countries. Most, if not all, have spent many years of their lives, studying and working overseas in places like Australia, London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Florence, Taiwan, Japan, China and Malaysia. Some have lived through their own version of Prague Spring, like the Cultural Revolution in China, while others have endured dictatorships in the Philippines and Taiwan. Each I believe have internalised a system of creating art which is either akin to Nietzche’s concept of eternal recurrence, or a style more to floating in the ‘lightness’ of the moment and hence more ‘fragile’ works.

    Whatever their inspiration is, their choice of artistic language or unique approach to art-making, their rich experiences combined with artistic talents have produced the kind of works which speak to an international audience of art lovers and collectors. I hope you will enjoy these works as much as they have given me joy in my pursuit of ‘lightness’ in a world of ‘heaviness’.

    List of Artists: Anthony Chua, Augusto Albor, Han Sai Por, Hong Sek Chern, Hsiao Chin, Iskandar Jalil, Leo Hee Tong, Liang Quan, Jolly Koh, Shi Jin Dian, Wong Keen, Yu Teng-Chuan, Zhuang Sheng Tao

    For more info on the show, please view Exhibitions, under Projects.