Green Zeng @ Chan Hampe Galleries, Singapore

Multi-disciplinary Singaporean artist Green Zeng has never been one to shy away from controversy. Inspired by the notion of constructed history, he has put the faces of pro-communist figures and ex-political detainees from the 1950s-1960s on fictional Singaporean bank notes asking the viewer “what if?;” he has also shown photographic works imagining an exile who returns to Singapore after a long absence.

For his new solo exhibition, “Chinese School Lessons,” Zeng continues this theme of constructed history, this time turning his attention to the portrayal of Chinese school student activism of pre- and post-independent Singapore and the educational reforms affecting Chinese schools in that era.

Presenting a series of blackboards, covered with silk-screened images of white Chinese school uniforms, painted flags, and texts in three languages (English, Chinese, and Malay), the 30-year-old artist transforms the gallery into a classroom where he invites the viewer to join in a lesson discussing the changes in Chinese education and the struggle to retain one's cultural and historical roots amidst the building of a new nation.

Chinese middle-school students were a strong political force in the 1950s and often clashed with authorities. The images of familiar Chinese school uniforms and interwoven texts of school mottos, slogans, anthems, and idioms allude to the strong ideals and ideology of these schools, whilst the inclusion of three languages points to the important role that language plays in forming cultural and national identity.

“Chinese School Lessons” runs at Chan Hampe Galleries until 18 October 2012.

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