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For the second phase of Visual Notes: Actions and Imaginings,

the prep-room project sees a continued examination of modern/contemporary artist Jimmy Ong’s practice, delving into the liquid identities the artist and his constructed personas inhabit.

Daily until 26 June 2021 | Free admission | NUS Museum

Drawing upon the artist’s experiments in the video from the 2010s, alongside a selection of Ong’s earlier study sketches, drawings, paintings, photographs, and personal effects since the 1980s, the prep-room becomes a fluid space to consider various streams: Of the colonial histories, art histories, political histories, personal histories, and mythic narratives that surface across Ong’s works, as well as their inflections across modern and contemporary temperaments.

Visual Notes continues with the notion of the preparatory study, with permeable clusters of works that posit thematic ‘studies’ for further examination. These ‘studies’ thus serve as open modes of inquiry seeking to situate Ong’s extensive practice from the 1980s to the present within broader discursive formations. The project’s subtitle takes from art historian T. K. Sabapathy’s reading of the Sitayana works made by Ong in 2010. In noting the choice of Sita from the Ramayana as subject, Sabapathy describes how such seminal characters “represent the worlds of human aspirations, actions and imaginings.” These grand notions are both deployed and softened in Ong’s work—boundaries are liquefied from the shifting identities in Ong’s video experiments, to the dynamic, malleable forms of the artist’s charcoal drawings.

About Jimmy Ong

Jimmy Ong (b. 1964, Singapore) works with a range of media, from large-scale, figurative charcoal works on paper since his first exhibitions in Singapore during the 1980s, to more recent explorations in performance, installation, and video. His practice involves highly personal inquiries into bodily forms and queer(ed) identities, expanding into broader entanglements with regional myths, archetypes, traditions, and historical narratives. His current projects interrogate the colonial figure of Stamford Raffles within Javanese history.

After being awarded a scholarship, Ong studied art at the Centre for Creative Studies, Detroit, graduating in 1986. He later completed a certificate programme at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 1992. Leaving Singapore in 1996, he was based mostly in the US until moving to Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 2013, where he currently lives and works. The artist has exhibited internationally, recently presenting work in Singapore (Asian Civilisations Museum, 2019; National Gallery Singapore, 2015; NUS Museum, 2013; Singapore Tyler Print Institute, 2010), Hong Kong (Para Site, 2018), Taipei (Museum of Contemporary Art, 2017), New York (Tyler Rollins Fine Art, 2013, 2010), and Yogyakarta (Biennale Jogja XII, 2013). His works are also in the permanent collections of the NUS Museum and the National Gallery Singapore.

Collections History

NUS Museum’s interest in developing further study on Jimmy Ong’s sketches and works takes its roots with the first painting of the artist that the institutions acquired. Venus Ascending with the Moon (dated 1988) became part of the South and Southeast Asia Collection in 1999, preceding Jimmy Ong’s Chinatown Suite in 2011. This Suite contains 116 sketches from 1985–87 grouped by the artist, named for the formative years spent at his grandmother’s house and his early studio at the same address. Later in 2013, Ong loaned the Museum a shoebox of photographs and postcards documenting his travels and exhibitions from the 1980s–90s. A further loan of Amoy Suite in 2016, containing 400 items including pencil and ink sketches, watercolours, oil paintings, photographic film, and sketchbooks, among others, from 1981–2010, added to this repository of works and artist archive. The current iteration of the prep-room features pieces from the Amoy Suite interspersed with photographs from the Shoebox Collection, situating these selections in relation to a large-scale recent charcoal work on paper, Rampogan Macan (2014).0