Children of the Star: Works by Chen Shitong and Nhawfal Juma'at
17 August 2023 – 3 September 2023
AC43 Gallery is proud to present the exhibition that brings together Chen Shitong and Nhawfal Juma'at—both artists, educators, and first-time fathers. Sharing similar yet different life experiences, the artists utilise their distinctive approaches to collect and deploy tangible and intangible emotions, forms, and colours to create their works. Each piece is a narrative that expands the audience’s imagination on nature, religion, everyday objects, scale, and the sense of self. The exhibition delves into the ever-morphing nature of memories and their interchangeable properties with stories.
Featuring over 25 new works of prints, ceramics, and paintings by Chen Shitong and Nhawfal Juma'at, the title Children of the Star is taken from the astronomer Carl Sagan's popular science show in the 1980s. As he once said, "The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself." While we may not delve deep into how our bodies and those of our ancestors are formed by the spectacular death of the massive stars that were thousands of lightyears distant, we are looking into his poetic ways of deploying memories, weaving us a tapestry that connects to the unreachable and mysterious universe. The story expands our imagination and liberates our sense of self from our repetitive and ordinary lives on earth. Over time, the story grows and morphs into different forms of memories, making all of us “children of the star”. The exhibition will commence with this poetic take on Sagan’s.
Our everyday experiences are accumulations of memories that form stories, just like bricks form a house; they constitute our internal voices, give us a sense of meaning, ideas and dreams to pursue, and guide us in making even the tiniest daily decisions. At the centre of it is the protagonist—the precious "me"—who sets forth a series of goals that becomes the plot of our lives. Therefore, recognising memories becomes crucial as they are the resources we draw upon to imagine and project different futures—the stories of us. Through this presentation, Shitong and Nhawfal invite the audience to embark on an intimate and transcendental journey to explore and scrutinise the personal and collective space of Storyland.
Romantic yet mired in reality, Chen Shitong’s work often weaves subtle narratives that contemplate the meaning of man’s existence and the relation between nature and man-made objects. His artmaking process is fluid, giving full rein to the influx of ideas that come through him as the artist navigates through contemporary life, dictating the type of printmaking techniques or choice of medium used. Shitong’s work translates between painting, printmaking and ceramics, with a particular interest in surface texture. The exquisite layering effects observed in his artworks are created by his application of multiple mediums that are painted onto handcrafted textures before they are printed on a press.
Chen Shitong. Little People, Little Places (Burnt Sienna) , 2023, Collagraph and screenprint on paper, 69 x 103 cm
In this exhibition, Shitong presents a new series of prints that utilise found objects from his surroundings, like stickers he used during Covid-19 while visiting a hawker centre. Carrying with them their meanings, these objects create pictorial depth and volume and enable our personal and collective memories to transport us back in time. Alongside his prints, a new series of ceramic works is presented as a humorous continuation of his exploration and experiments on texture, colour and memories. When viewed from one side, the ceramics resemble the form of a landscape or the shape of an island. Atop the “landscape”, Shitong painted scenes from historical and fictional stories that contribute to memories and identity of himself and Singaporeans collectively, such as scenes from the fire of Bukit Ho Swee in 1961 and the stories of Sang Nila Utama, the prince from Palembang who founded the Kingdom of Singapura in 1299. The reverse side of the ceramic works, bizarrely, takes the shape of a stylised human head adorned with painted hair, complete with human ears and noses.
About the Artist
Chen Shitong (b. Singapore, 1985) began his studies at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), majoring in Painting in 2003. He received a BA in Fine Arts from Gold Smith College in partnership with LASALLE College of the Arts (LASALLE) in 2013. In 2018, he completed the Tamarind Professional Printer training program and received the title of a certified Tamarind Printer. He is currently an adjunct lecturer at NAFA, LASALLE and School of the Arts (SOTA).
He is a recipient of the Winston Oh Travel Award in 2012. And in 2009, he was a recipient of NAFA Fine Art Award winning the NAFA Wood Award category. His paintings and prints were commissioned by Farrer Park Hospital and Rochor MRT Station for a group project initiated by LASALLE.
Through observation and investigation of nature, state of being, space, and the relationships between them all, Nhawfal Juma'at’s works respond to his surroundings and everyday experiences. Heavily based on concepts and ideologies, his artistic practice moves across various mediums, including installation, paintings and ceramics. In Time We Are Nowhere but Here (2023) is Nhawfal’s latest exploration on time, memories, and forms. Through construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of everyday forms and objects, Nhawfal looks for the fundamental elements that shape our sense of existence. The series comprises nine paintings, each inviting the audience into an internal dialogue encompassing metaphysical elevation, contemporary panopticism, the essence of repose, and the very nature of being.
Nhawfal Juma'at. In Time We Are Nowhere but Here: Obelisk 19:01, Oil on canvas, 122 x 92 cm
Crafted like scenes of religious stories, Nhawfal sets us inside the dome or the obelisk he built, looking outward from an arch-shaped opening; before our eyes is a surrealistic world filled with monolithic structures beyond the death of history and postmodernism. Monolithic structures have always been perceived as a symbol of power and solidification of one’s position—a state of total presence or even omnipresence. While the audience is set in eternal contemplation on the edifices of authority, it is also a contemplation of immortality—a reassurance of our existence, as eternally as the structure itself. In the words of the artist, “We are not merely an ephemeral being on earth but an immortalised spectre with an unyielding future.”
About the Artist
Nhawfal Juma'at (b. Singapore, 1991) received his Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Fine Art from Loughborough University. He has exhibited extensively in Singapore in group exhibitions, erected public installations and in recent years, embarked on a curatorial role with his recent projects, Bridging Through the Age: An Intergenerational Collaborative Exhibition (2022) and Pneuma: Of Spirituality in a Contemporary Age (2020), in conjunction with Singapore Art Week 2020, as well as Landscapes of Our Mind (2018), as a form of advocacy for mental wellness. Nhawfal currently works as an adjunct lecturer at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts teaching studio modules such as oil painting and hand building in ceramics.