I have been following Nicola Anthony’s works and stories on migrant and isolated communities for a while. Her research has led to a myriad of inner journeys. I first got introduced to her delicate works at the Intersection Gallery and the Singapore Art Museum in 2017/18. I was fascinated and drawn to how she collected personal stories of migrants and gave it a voice by engaging them! So now it was really everyone’s work as they all have something of them stored in the timelessness, represented through the artists expressions. In these times of social responsibility and social distancing I get an opportunity to reach out to Nicola through technology to connect her to her fans and followers.
Thank you for taking this time to talk to us Nicola. I know a lot is happening or rather not happening around the world, and we take this opportunity to peek into your art life for our audiences
Take us into your journey as an artist. Why, when and how did you enter in this world of art?
Art is like magic: it has always been there for me, and always brought me joy. My life as a professional artist began as soon as I left university in 2003 when I was taken on by a gallery in London. I soon realised that art is a powerful way to communicate, to open up the minds of the audience to new perspectives. When I moved to Singapore I committed to the next level – full time professional artist with no other income source. Without a safety net I found renewed passion. I began using art to tell the stories of raw human emotion and marginalised communities – those stories which are hard to look at in a newspaper but can be fascinating, heartwarming, heartbreaking, melancholy and eye-opening when art helps bring out the human side.
As for the very beginning moment of being an artist…my first exhibition was made of macaroni pasta and crayola, and was held in my parent’s house when I was 6…!
What are the main highlights of your journey so far, in Singapore, UK, and now Ireland.
I am most proud of my public artworks which are installed permanently around the world. I am currently working on a public sculpture in Ireland, and two of my favourite metal sculptures are in America – one of the moments which really made me realise the way my art resonates with others was when I received a letter of thanks from Steven Spielberg for my sculpure telling the story of a Holocaust Survivor at his USC Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles.
I had the pleasure of a solo exhibition at Singapore Art Museum in 2017. Since then I have had two solo shows with Intersections Gallery, launched a permanent sculpture in the National Design Centre and had many works acquired by private collections – I am truly thankful for the support of the Singapore public.
Tell us about the story behind becoming a finalist in the prestigious Sovereign Art Prize, and the shortlisted piece Poetry Net (I)
I am honoured to have been shortlisted as one of two artists representing Singapore this year, alongside talented fellow artist Sarah Choo Jing. I was nominated for the prize by the awesome art-mind Suzzana Chew of Artitute Magazine. Poetry Net (I) is a text artwork which has evolved from the series commissioned by Singapore Art Museum. It is constructed from a poem cut into recycled translucent plastic film, turning it into lace-like structures of text, and reminiscent of nylon fishing nets.
The words within the nets are special. I make artworks about the current migrant crisis as well as refugees throughout history. Over the last 6 years in my research I noted that in the darkest times, people talk about concepts vital to human existence – whether it was hope, love, superstition, religion or social media, these things helped them survive.
I wanted to make an artwork about their experiences and that collective mantra of survival, so I wrote the poem called ‘The thread that binds’, which then got made into a series of works called Poetry Nets.
Your more recent installation Our Time has been commissioned to hang in the central dome of the Lim Chin Tsong Palace in Yangon, the capital city of Myanmar. This suspended ‘poem artwork’ uses fragments of phrases in both Burmese, and English/Singlish, and poetry by writer San Lin Tun. Tell us more – how did this project come to you, and what is it all about? What went behind the making and what were the challenges, if any?
The Heritage Palace took my breath away when I first arrived. It has a long history from lavish parties thrown by Lim Chin Tsong himself, to becoming the headquarters for a Japanese propaganda radio station during WW2, and at present times it is home to an art school.
The sculpture Our Time was made initially for the Singapore Festival 2020 and is now looked after by the Singapore Embassy in Yangon. The exhibition was commissioned by Singapore Tourism Board and curated by Marie-Pierre Mol, I am so grateful to them for navigating the complexities of hanging contemporary art in a heritage space in Myanmar.
The country is full of inspiration and life, and of course there are always unexpected moments and challenges such as the regulations around hanging a 7x7x8m wide sculpture from a 100 year old roof structure. The palace does not have electrical wiring so we ran lights and installation tools using generators. I had an amusing moment one evening where I realised that the whole generator was running just to power my glue gun. It seemed a bit extravagant so I called it a night!
You lived a few years in Singapore, tell us about your work with the migrants and your research into the Singaporean diaspora, which we see is still guiding your works from Ireland.
Since I moved to Singapore I have worked with various disenfranchised communities to make artworks about people from different walks of life, to explore the threads of commonalities between us all. I have been incredibly grateful to organisations like Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (H.O.M.E.) and Yellow Ribbon Project for helping me make connections and friendships which also informed my research.
In a project I set up two years ago, my Studio in Singapore receives letters from Singaporean diaspora around the world.
Last year I was invited to create art in Ireland about migrant communities and isolated communities – quite often these overlap. Like Singapore, Ireland is a small country with a tight knot community. In Ireland there are only 2-300 Singaporeans, and I of course found a little network here as a starting point for these projects. We reminisce about chicken rice and also as a point of research for how a language like Singlish becomes a fun and endearing link to home when abroad, rather than the more serious or everyday use it would have in Singapore. As an artist interested in migration and language, this was a leaping off point into some projects I am currently working on for my residency, about perception of language.
Is there something more you would like to share with our audience and let them know of future projects or thoughts?
Yes – there’s something I am working on to give back to others, and one favour to ask too!Firstly, I would love your reader’s support in voting for my artwork, Poetry Net (I) in the Sovereign Art Prize’s special public vote category here!
Secondly, I have re-launched my Human Archive Project which collects life stories which I turn into text artworks. It is an anonymous portal, and I am seeking stories of Covid-19 isolation. In this global moment, many of us experience emotions that range from anxiety, to solitude, fear, loneliness, oneness, and heartbreak. I want to immortalise the Singapore community’s isolation stories.
The Human Archive Project
Finally, a big thank you to Conversations @ Studio-ID for your thought provoking questions and your constant support of the arts!
Thank you once again Nicola for sharing your art journey and inner dimensions of your creative adventures with us.
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