Things They Don’t Tell You is a weekly online column that dives deep into the lives of Prestige 40 Under 40 class of 2020 laureates, where they share little-known stories and offer insights on things that go under-the-radar. This week, we get candid with photographer and artist Alecia Neo.
I was always drawn to art as a child. Drawing, collaging, making up secret worlds brought me a lot of pleasure, calm and freedom. Growing up, I was very thankful that I did not have the pressure to conform to particular pathways, so it became easy for me to just focus on what mattered. After majoring in Photography in university, I knew that I had to live a life where creating and connecting with people was central.
I’m also forever grateful to my mentors, peers, collaborators and art spaces who have profoundly shaped the way I perceive the world and work I make.
One of the highlights from 2020 was working with the amazing Baba GT Lye and his pantuns, for ramah-tamah, a dance film that was inspired by the numerous interviews, rites and symbols associated with the betel leaf practised across South and Southeast Asia. Launched at the Asian Civilisations Museum, this collaboration wouldn’t be possible without the incredible talents of Sandhya Suresh, Kyongsu Kathy Han, Chong Li-chuan and Khairul Amin.
Ubah Rumah Residency, is a new collaboration between me and artist Ernest Goh, hosted on a private island Nikoi, in Bintan. We both bring to the project our unique perspectives on hospitality and sustainability.
Ubah Rumah means “Home of Change” in Malay language; a microcosm of our shared worlds, reflecting the nomadic culture of the Orang Laut and the maritime history of the region. Much like constructing a home, the artists, researchers and communities are invited to collectively lay the foundations and build upon each other’s work over the two years. Through this project, we explore the meaning of playing host in an ever-changing environment and the necessary tools we need to grow and live in this new world.
Aligning with the ethos of the island, all the artwork will be made with natural or recycled materials as much as possible; the artists have to also observe ecologically sensitive processes. The residency recognises the importance of conservation and seeks to reflect upon the urgent environmental challenges that Bintan faces, against a backdrop of rapid economic and social changes in the region.
The idea of travelling has now been completely transformed due to the onset of Covid-19, so at the moment we are pivoting to focus on launching a digital site, which will explore some of the key ideas of the residency. We believe that this period of disruption has offered us a timely pause to revisit our ideas, and we are looking forward to developing the work with the artists in a new way.
Watching and being part of the artistic development of some of the youth involved in our projects at Unseen Art Initiatives has been very rewarding. I’m reminded that seeds planted in the past continue to grow and have an impact beyond what we started with.
How we can care better is something that has been on my mind a lot. Currently, I’m working on an artistic research project called the Care Index, which collects and features diverse gestures of care performed by people from all walks of life, sharing states of well-being with the audience. Through experimenting with different possibilities of how such gestures can be learned and communicated, and analysing the sensations they evoke, I hope that this project will lead to fresh insights into how we relate to each other and our environments. This research builds upon an earlier collaborative project, Between Earth and Earth, which involved primary caregivers expressing their personal caregiving journeys via movement.
Esther Perel is incredibly inspiring. She’s perceptive, insightful and precise. Thich nhat hanh, for his wisdom, grace and his many teachings on Interbeing.
Endurance and persistence. I have the capacity to be involved in projects which I care about for the long-haul, though I do like to take my time with the work, allowing it time to unfold slowly.
One of the best things someone has said to me was, “Have courage to stand in your own truth.”
God forgive me, but I eat way too many pandan waffles with chocolate and peanut butter. Running a waffle store remains one of my unrealised dreams.
I’d rather be shot than live in a humourless world.
Fear is an invitation to say hello to an old wound. Be gentle with it.
Appreciate that someone else’s story is as complex and nuanced as we see our own.
I’d tell my younger self, “You don’t have to go in alone”.
Stupidest thing I’ve ever done? Too many, including jumping off a moving train after my friends in India as it begins to leave the station.
I feel good when I laugh out loud.
As a young artist, I was told that if I’m not feeling uncomfortable or challenged, then I’m not trying out something new. If we can treat failures as rehearsals for the future, we might not hold on to feelings of disappointment or rejection for as long as we do. Plus, failures make for the best stories to tell at your next gathering.
It is evident that we are truly interdependent with others in this world. Our choices and actions really do matter, because they affect more than just ourselves.
It is so important to be able to forgive and be forgiven.
Singapore is… becoming.
(Main and featured image: Eileen Chew)