Amanda Heng



Amanda Heng Liang Ngim[1] (born 1951, Singapore), better known simply as Amanda Heng, is a contemporary artist known for her collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to art. Heng’s works typically explore real-world social issues in the context of Singapore’s multicultural and fast-changing society. A pioneer of contemporary art in Singapore, Heng was involved in the founding of two local art collectives: The Artists Village in 1988 and Women in the Arts (WITA) in 1999.[2] [3] [4]For her contributions to the local art scene, Heng was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Visual Arts in 2010.[5]

Artistic development[6] [7]
Heng was in her late 30s when she decided to leave her civil service job to pursue a printmaking course at the Lasalle College of the Arts in 1986. She had been working as an income tax officer when she realised it was not what she wanted in life. “I always knew that I wanted to say something about what was happening around me… I just did not know that it was art that I wanted to do,”[8] Heng reflected in an interview years later. Her search for meaning eventually led her to the arts.

Heng graduated from Lasalle in 1988 with a diploma in printmaking. That same year, she helped found an art collective known as The Artists Village. She would also be involved in the establishment of the first artist-run women collective in Singapore, Women In The Arts (WITA), in 1999.

Heng started out using mainly her own body as a medium for her art performances as it had occurred to her that it was the cheapest material that she could use.[9] Today, Heng does not limit herself to any particular aesthetic or medium, but uses a variety of approaches – blending installation, photography, multimedia and performance – in her work.

Heng finds inspiration for her work in her life experiences, observations and reactions to situations.[10] For her, art is a critical tool for examining social issues, creating awareness and bringing about change. She often works together with other artists as well as non-artists, including members of the public. Her works often give space to multiple voices from diverse cultures, backgrounds, disciplines and perspectives.

Notable works

In her efforts to create art that has meaning and relevance for the ordinary person, Heng has created a collection of works that is bold in its engagement with people, rich in meaning, and strong in its relevance to the man in the street and everyday life. In particular, Heng’s works attempt to provoke audiences into thinking about social issues such as changes in cultural, group and gender identities in the context of Singapore’s multicultural and rapidly changing society.[11] [12] Some of her notable works include:

S/He (1994)
S/He
was Heng’s attempt at examining the clash between Western and Eastern cultures based on her experience living as a Chinese in a highly westernised Singapore. The performance piece sought to explore how the implications of such cultural conflicts affected the construction of identity. Heng also wanted to question what it meant to be a woman in the cultural and political context of her homeland.[13]


Let’s Chat (1996)
First presented at The Substation, Let’s Chat was a performance piece by Heng during which she invited the audience to sit and chat with her at a table while drinking tea and cleaning bean sprouts. The aim was to encourage the audience to rediscover the simpler joys of kampong (Malay for “village”) life and examine the costs of material progress in Singapore. The work was subsequently performed at local shopping malls and markets as well as overseas.[14]


Another Woman (1996)
First shown at the Rapport exhibition held at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), Another Woman consisted of a series of photographs and installations created by Heng in collaboration with her mother.[15] The project sought to highlight the sense of displacement felt by dialect-speaking, kampong-bred women such as Heng’s mother as they grappled with a diminishing social identity as “another woman” in a rapidly progressing nation.[16]


Let’s Walk (1999)
Let’s Walk was a street performance series involving Heng and members of the public walking backwards with high-heeled shoes in their mouths and using handheld mirrors to guide them along.[17] [18]


The performance piece was Heng’s response to the 1997 Asian financial crisis, when female employees were the first to be fired when companies had to downsize. Many Singapore women had to resort to going to beauty salons and getting plastic surgery to keep their jobs. As a result, the beauty industry made a lot of money while most other businesses went on a decline during the crisis.[19] Heng wanted to make a statement through Let’s Work on Singapore women’s pre-occupation with “improving outer beauty and relying on the external rather than the internal to make them feel and look better.”[20]

The performance was staged locally as well as overseas in countries like Japan, France, Poland, Indonesia, Sweden and Spain. The concept would later evolve into the Let’s Walk Some More series.[21] [22]

Singirl (2000)
Singirl is an ongoing project series that comprises photographs of Heng dressed up in the Singapore Girl’s distinctive kebaya outfit against the backdrop of various heritage locations in Singapore.[23] [24] Heng started the project to poke fun at the iconic gentle, smiling, submissive and ever-ready-to-serve Singapore Girl air stewardess that was created as an advertising tool for Singapore Airlines (SIA). Heng hoped that the project would encourage people to question the stereotyping of women and also the reasons given for the destruction of heritage sites in Singapore in the name of economic development.

In 2011, the Singirl online art project was started by Heng to encourage women participants to sign up for the Singirl contingent she was hoping to form for the upcoming National Day Parade celebrating Singapore’s independence. Participants could also submit images of their bare bottoms on the project’s website, which was featured as part of the Amanda Heng: Speak to Me, Walk with Me exhibition organised by SAM.[25]


Other appointments
Heng has lectured at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the National Institute of Education (NIE). She has also supervised MA students at Lasalle. In 2009, she was part of the selection and curatorial committee for the President’s Young Talents Exhibition in Singapore.[26] [27]


Education[28]
1988: Diploma in printmaking, Lasalle College of the Arts.
1990: Research on Women’s Liberation Movement and Feminist Art, Central St Martins College of Arts and Design, UK.
1993: Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art), Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia.

Milestones[29]

Contributions
1988:
One of the founding members of The Artists Village.
1992: Participant, 3rd Artists Regional Exchange (3rd ARX), Perth, Australia.
1994: Organised and collaborated on Artists Project, Raw Theatre, The Substation, Singapore.
1996: Participant, Nippon International Performance Art Festival, Tokyo, Nagano, Japan.
1996: Participant, Rapport, Singapore International Art Festival, travelling exchange exhibition, Singapore, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane.
1997: Exhibited in Womanifesto and spoke at its Women & Art forum, Bangkok, Thailand.
1997: Participant, Cleveland International Performance Art Festival, Cleveland, USA.
1998: Curated, organised and participated in Women About Women, a multi-media collaborative event with Singapore International Film Festival and Singapore Art Museum (SAM), Singapore.
1997: Artist-in-Residence at Artists Unlimited in Bielefeld, Germany.
1999: Formed the Women in the Arts (WITA) collective.
1999: Workshop and panel speaker, Fukuoka, Japan.
1999: Participant in Rand Festival, Austria.
1999: Panel speaker, Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney, Australia.
1999–2000: Co-organised and spoke at Friday Event, a series of public forum on Contemporary Arts & Culture in Singapore, The Substation, Singapore.
2000: Participant, Real Work-Werkleitz Biennale in Werkleitz, Germany.
2000: Artist-in-Residence and panel speaker, Tachikawa International Art Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
2000: Participant, 7th Havana Biennial, Havana, Cuba.
2001: Co-organised, co-curated and participated in Open Ends comprising monthly talks on performance art issues and an exhibition of documentation on performance art in Singapore.
2001: Women Breaking Boundaries 21, exhibition and forum on networking, Tokyo and Osaka, Japan.
2001: Collaborated on A Woman in the Tree on the Hill, interdisciplinary, inter-cultural collaborative project (theatre, video art, sculpture, music, dance, performance art) with Wild Rice Theatre Company, Gong Myoung Percussion Ensemble, Korea, presented at Jubilee Theatre of Raffles Hotel in Singapore, Singapore International Arts Festival.
2001: Recipient, Cultural Medallion for Visual Arts.
7 Oct 2011–1 Jan 2012: First solo exhibition: Amanda Heng: Speak To Me, Walk With Me, Singapore Art Museum (SAM).


Installation and Performance
1994: Staged S/He.
1996: Staged Let’s Chat.
1996: Showcased Another Woman.
1998–1999:
Staged Narrating Bodies.
1999: Staged Let’s Walk, street performance.
2000–present: Singirl, also an ongoing online project.[30]

2003: Staged Home Service, focusing on the plight of domestic workers in Singapore today.
2005: Staged I Remember.[31]

2007: Staged Our Lives in Our Hands, about the plight of foreign labourers in Singapore.

Presentations
1997:
Cleveland Performance Art Festival USA.
1997:
1st Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial.
1999: 3rd Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane, Australia.
2000: Werkleitz Biennale in Germany.
2000:
7th Havana Biennial.
2001:
1st Women’s Performance Art Festival, Osaka, Japan.
2001: Performance Art Festival in Spain.
2001: Channel N at Kyoto Art Center.
2006:
1st Singapore Biennale.

Theatre
2001: Co-directed theatre production, Bernard’s Story, written by Dana Lam.
2001: Performed in theatre production, A Woman On the Tree in the Hill, directed by Ivan Heng.[32]


Other projects
1991: Women And Their Arts.
1992: The Space.
1994: 1st Asian Film Appreciation workshop.
1994: Artists Project.
1994: Memories and Senses.
1998: Women About Women.
2000: The Friday Event.
2001: Open Ends.
2005: Exchange 05.


Author
Angeline Koh


References
[1] Lee, J. (Interviewer). (2004, October 21). Oral history interview with Heng, Amanda Liang Ngim. [CD Recording No. 002891/17/01]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://archivesonline.nas.sg
[2] Tribute.sg. (2010). Amanda Heng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Amanda+Heng
[3] Chew, D. (2006, June 21). Not just another woman. Today, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[4] Women in Photography Symposium. (2013). Speaker Introduction: Amanda Heng. Retrieved from http://womeninphotographsymposium.com/speaker-10.html
[5] National Arts Council Singapore. (2013, October 4). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Visual Arts. Retrieved from https://www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/visual-arts/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-visual-arts
[6] Tribute.sg. (2010). Amanda Heng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Amanda+Heng
[7] SPH RazorTV. (2013, July 25) From civil servant to bare bottoms (Amanda Heng The Singirl Pt 3). Retrieved from http://youtu.be/MWVQBG98Q_s
[8] De Rozario, T. (2011, November 16). Amanda Heng: Singapore’s national enquirer. Retrieved from TimeOut Singapore website at http://www.timeoutsingapore.com/art/feature/profile-singapore-artist-amanda-heng
[9] De Rozario, T. (2011, November 15). Time Out Singapore: Interview with Amanda Heng, performance artist. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/G8iNvghPTS8
[10] Neuzilova, M. & Hoe, E. Talking and Walking with Amanda Heng. Retrieved from Singapore Art Gallery Guide website at http://www.sagg.com.sg/page/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=371
[11] Tribute.sg. (2010). Amanda Heng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Amanda+Heng
[12] SPH RazorTV. (2013, July 25). Singirl, not Singapore Girl (Amanda Heng The Singirl Pt 2). Retrieved from http://youtu.be/uU_X67f1U0Q
[13] College Art Association. (1994) Amanda Heng – S/HE: Performance art. Retrieved from http://franklinfurnace.org/research/related/caa/amanda_heng/heng.html
[14] Tribute.sg. (2010). Amanda Heng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Amanda+Heng
[15] Wong, S. (1996, June 12). Funny or perverse – new art forms made accessible to public. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[16] Tribute.sg. (2010). Amanda Heng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Amanda+Heng
[17] Tribute.sg. (2010). Amanda Heng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Amanda+Heng
[18] Chew, D. (2006, June 21). Not just another woman. Today, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[19] Rawlings, A. (2010, September/October). Where I work: Amanda Heng. Retrieved from Art Asia Pacific website at http://artasiapacific.com/Magazine/70/AmandaHeng
[20] Neuzilova, M. & Hoe, E. Talking and Walking with Amanda Heng. Retrieved from Singapore Art Gallery Guide website at http://www.sagg.com.sg/page/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=371
[21] Tribute.sg. (2010). Amanda Heng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Amanda+Heng
[22] Neuzilova, M. & Hoe, E. Talking and Walking with Amanda Heng. Retrieved from Singapore Art Gallery Guide website at http://www.sagg.com.sg/page/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=371
[23] Tribute.sg. (2010). Amanda Heng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Amanda+Heng
[24] TODAYonline. (2011, October 24). A guided tour of Amanda Heng’s Speak To Me, Walk With Me. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/FYao6boNW7Y
[25] Heng, A. (2011). Singirl: online art project. Retrieved from http://www.singirl.net/
[26] Tribute.sg. (2010). Amanda Heng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Amanda+Heng
[27] Women in Photography Symposium. (2013). Speaker Introduction: Amanda Heng. Retrieved from http://womeninphotographsymposium.com/speaker-10.html
[28] Tribute.sg. (2010). Amanda Heng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Amanda+Heng
[29] Tribute.sg. (2010). Amanda Heng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Amanda+Heng
[30] De Rozario, T. (2011, November 16). Amanda Heng: Singapore’s national enquirer. Retrieved from TimeOut Singapore website at http://www.timeoutsingapore.com/art/feature/profile-singapore-artist-amanda-heng
[31] De Rozario, T. (2011, November 16). Amanda Heng: Singapore’s national enquirer. Retrieved from TimeOut Singapore website at http://www.timeoutsingapore.com/art/feature/profile-singapore-artist-amanda-heng
[32] SPH RazorTV. (2013, July 25). Singirl, not Singapore Girl (Amanda Heng The Singirl Pt 2). Retrieved from http://youtu.be/uU_X67f1U0Q



The information in this article is valid as at 4 March 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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