Emi Eu is no stranger to Singapore’s art scene. The current project director of S.E.A. Focus and executive director of STPI Creative Workshop & Gallery has played an instrumental role in shaping the region’s artistic landscape since 2001—the year she joined STPI, formerly known as the Singapore Tyler Print Institute. Under her leadership, STPI has gone from strength to strength, collaborating with renowned regional and global artists and earning recognition as the only gallery from Singapore to participate in all three editions of the Art Basel fairs.
2022 marks the fourth iteration of S.E.A. Focus. Led by Emi since its inception in 2019, the art fair brings together some of the finest artists and galleries from across the region in a pioneering showcase of Southeast Asian contemporary art.
This year’s showcase features 150 artworks from 50 artists and 24 galleries in the region, all centred around the theme “chance••• constellations”: an exploration of the shared histories, geographies and converging cultures that connect the artistic community in the region. But beyond notions of bringing together artistic talent in the region, the theme also holds special meaning for Emi. “When I think about constellations, two things come to mind: outer space and our vast universe,” she remarks. “We can’t ignore the real issues at hand, but it is also important that we remember the infinite and magnificent beauty of the natural world and the cosmos beyond—to help us see the world from the top, rather than being mired in a narrower vision.”
Amidst the ongoing pandemic, S.E.A. Focus remains one of the handful of art fairs globally that is pushing ahead. COVID-19 may have altered the way we consume art, but Emi believes that there is still a space for physical art fairs and showcases. “The pandemic definitely changed art buying patterns. With travel restrictions and the cancellation of art fairs, collectors had to either stop buying or get used to viewing digital images of art pieces before purchase,” she adds. “That said, seeing and experiencing art in person is something that can never be replaced.”
“A good piece of art needs to connect—to have some element of truth that resonates with you”
It is clear that art—in all its shapes and forms—is something that Emi holds near and dear. Here, she opens up about contemporary Asian art, her own favourite personal pieces and why you should start your own art collection today.
It has been two years since the start of the pandemic. How has it changed your approach to collecting art?
Apart from the change in art buying patterns, I—like many others in our part of the world—have come to appreciate more acutely the sense of regional identity that was increasingly lost with globalisation. I see an increasing sense of pride in our Southeast Asian identity and with that, a natural evolution in the appreciation of local art and movements as we rediscover our origins.
What makes for good contemporary Asian art?
A good piece of art needs to connect—to have some element of truth that resonates with you, the viewer. Contemporary art, which draws inspiration from current events in the world, should question or teach you something you didn’t know.
Tell us about your own personal art collection. What are some of your favourite pieces?
One of my favourite pieces is “Four Malay Stories” (2005) by Ming Wong. It is a four-part video work inspired by the work of Malay cinema icon, P. Ramlee. I first saw it at an NUS Museum exhibition and it became my very first purchase of a work by a Singapore artist in my early years here.
“Collecting art should not be an intimidating experience. Do your research, visit galleries and museums and buy art you really like”
What are some of your tips for budding art collectors?
Collecting art should not be an intimidating experience. It’s helpful to have some idea of the type of “art” you like—be it paintings, sculptures, video and so on. It’s also great if you can tap on friends who are familiar with what is happening in the gallery and art worlds but it’s equally important to do your own research.
Visit museums and galleries to find out what you are attracted to and to learn more about art history. Fairs like S.E.A. Focus are a great place to start your collection because art prices are not stratospheric. You can also follow arts platforms such as Artsy to continue your journey of discovery.
Ultimately, art collection is all about understanding your own taste. Think about what artwork you love and what to live with. Your taste will develop and change so be sure to buy art that you really like!
S.E.A. Focus 2022 runs till 23rd January.