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Art review: For Those Who Have Been Killed

SINGAPORE — In an age of instant communication, hardly a day goes by without some horror being reported on from somewhere in the world. These vagaries of information and attention, broadly speaking, are the key themes underlying the latest solo exhibition by veteran contemporary artist and art educator Vincent Leow.

SINGAPORE — In an age of instant communication, hardly a day goes by without some horror being reported on from somewhere in the world. These vagaries of information and attention, broadly speaking, are the key themes underlying the latest solo exhibition by veteran contemporary artist and art educator Vincent Leow.

The exhibition is titled Called For Those Who Have Been Killed and is curated by Christina Arum Sok. The works on show, with some notable exceptions, generally comprise the basic form of a ground or under-painting over which is overlaid a bone-shaking block of stenciled, painted text.

Each artwork addresses a specific subject, with the text being a relevant quote, and the underlying image or ground linked to the subject in question.

Truest to form in this respect are the paintings Gaza’s List and Peshawar’s List. The former brings together an excerpt of the names of about 300 children slain during an Israeli assault on Gaza that rest upon an image of the Star of David. Meanwhile, the latter overlays an excerpt of the names of the victims of a Taliban attack in Peshawar on top of a foggy image of human figures.

Both these events are simultaneously humanised and made even more abstract. We are challenged, even shamed, by the names of the dead, and yet the dense barrage of text — akin to a Gothic blackletter — seems deliberately arranged to overwhelm, alluding to the information overload that stands between having some meaningful emotional response to these horrors. In a sense, it examines the raw limits of human empathy.

Somewhat different from this pair is the painting titled Wheelbarrow, which is oddly dated to “1990-2015”. It’s an incongruity that is revealed to be part of a tranche of old paintings of Leow’s, most of which lie rolled up in a custom-made coffin next to Wheelbarrow. The damage wrought by time seems to mirror the relentless march of the news cycle, which Leow tops off by painting an overlay of a quote from the nation’s current potty-mouth of the year, Amos Yee.

One of the most stirring images in the show — considering that this is done at the tail end of countless Jubilee celebrations — is Repression. It is a rich red-on-red offering that possesses something of a carnal physicality. The text, which seems at times to merge with the ground, is taken from one of the late Lee Kuan Yew’s most stirring statements to then Chief Minister David Marshall, warning of the dangers of brazenly quashing dissent.

In being read as celebration, indictment, or something in between, Repression also alludes to the sheer complexity of our informational landscape. One could say this prompts a re-consideration of the subject of the exhibition: It’s not just about the specific individuals slain in daily atrocities, but the challenge is in remaining humane in the face of the Byzantine complexity and density, particularly in light of the Chinese whispers-like way we understand the world. Bruce Quek

For Those Who Have Been Killed runs from Dec 3 to Jan 3 at Shophouse 5, 5 Geylang Lorong 24A. Free admission, but viewings by appointment. For more details, visit http://www.vada.org.sg or call 6338 1962.

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