Singapore-Based Gallerist Audrey Yeo On The State Of Southeast Asian Contemporary Art

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As the fourth edition of S.E.A. Focus, the annual commercial platform dedicated to Southeast Asian contemporary art gets underway in Singapore, I sit down with Audrey Yeo, founder of Yeo Workshop, one of the galleries participating in the art fair, to discuss the region’s contemporary art scene.

With Art SG having been postponed until 2023, are you excited that S.E.A. Focus is one of the few art shows that Singapore is still able to host at the beginning of 2022? Why did you decide to participate again in S.E.A. Focus? 

I believe that an opportunity for art is an opportunity for society to advance its visual culture and thus itself! As a contemporary art gallery that seeks to elevate local and regional artists and spotlight rising talents in Southeast Asia, participating in S.E.A. Focus 2022 is a natural decision.

Which are the most promising artists who have the greatest potential that you are presenting at S.E.A. Focus and what is their subject matter? 

The artists Yeo Workshop will present at S.E.A. Focus 2022 are Citra Sasmita, Maryanto and Sarah Choo Jing. Citra Sasmita is a Balinese artist concerned with unraveling the myths and upending normative constructs of gender within Balinese Hinduism scripture. Citra will be showing works done in the traditional Kamasan painting style with a feminist twist. She will be showing at the upcoming Kathmandu Triennale this year. Maryanto is an Indonesian artist who creates evocative paintings and drawings in a romantic, theatrical style that explores landscapes that are changed by technological development, industrialization, pollution of the land and exploitation of its natural resources, but necessary for the sustainability of the economy. For S.E.A. Focus 2022, he tells the story of sand mining in Indonesia. The artist is in several notable collections, including the Kadist Foundation. Sarah Choo Jing is known for her interdisciplinary approach to photography, video and installation. Her work depicts identifiable moments and characters within contemporary urban society, suggesting a plethora of private and often solitary narratives. The artist is concerned with the gaze of the flâneur, voyeurism and the uncanny. Her work for S.E.A. Focus 2022 is on the condition of people within the architecture of hawker centers in Singapore. The artist has won several awards for her video works, including the recent 2021 Lumen Prize for Art and Technology. Her works will be included later in the year in the Cincinnati Museum and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

What is the value of Southeast Asia’s contemporary artists and the potential for development of Southeast Asian contemporary art and its rising stars? Are they gaining more international attention?

Southeast Asia is a region rich with history and culture and now we have an interesting intersection and collaboration towards a digital future. An artist such as Fyerool Darma, whom we are showing as a solo exhibition in the gallery during S.E.A. Focus 2022, explores a Malay semiotic via its culture, language and fashion, but also taps into universal trends and techniques. The artists here are relatively untapped as yet and have a lot to bring to the international stage!

Will intimate regional art fairs like S.E.A. Focus thrive during the Covid-19 pandemic as opposed to larger art fairs like Art SG, and what impact has S.E.A. Focus had on the contemporary Southeast Asian art scene worldwide?

I think the success of regional art fairs will now be crucial to the local and regional quality of the artists, the dedication of the gallerists and the support of collectors and patrons. Worldwide, Southeast Asia still has a very small footprint.

Do you feel that contemporary Southeast Asian art is currently overpriced or underpriced? Is there still some ways to go before buyers recognize its value?

I think the price is fair at the moment. We are pricing the works according to what the market will pay for each artist! That being said, if we were to be successful in allowing Southeast Asian art to reach a wider international audience in the future, these artworks would grow in value.

Who are the collectors of contemporary Southeast Asian art today, and what kinds of collectors are you targeting in particular at S.E.A. Focus?

Generally a worldly kind of citizen. Singaporeans, other Southeast Asian collectors who collect artworks from their home countries, Europeans and Americans seem to be interested in Southeast Asian art. Our gallery is and has been nurturing a growing group of local and regional art collectors for the past eight years, so that is our same target.

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