Who says you can’t be creating art and expressing yourself at 80?
By Pamela Ho
Published on 26 August 2017
Who says you can’t be creating art and expressing yourself at 80?
By Pamela Ho
When visitors flocked to catch Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow (9 Jun to 3 Sep) at the National Gallery Singapore, no one thought of her exhibition as ‘Silver Arts’. The truth is, Kusama is still prodigiously creating art at 88, and shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, the titular work is part of her latest on-going series of artworks, which currently numbers over 500… and counting!
At the STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery is David Hockney: A Matter of Perspective (1 Jul to 9 Sep), an exhibition featuring 36 prints by the celebrated British artist. From paintings and photo collages to works created by fax machines and iPads, Hockney – who celebrates his 80th birthday this year – continues to push the boundaries and definitions of art.
“His iPad and iPhone drawings may be a bit controversial, but he doesn’t shy away from technology; he uses it to his full advantage,” says Tessa Chung, the exhibition’s curator. “What strikes me about Hockney’s work in his later years is that it’s still as vibrant as before. He has always asked a single question: ‘How do you see the world?’ and he’s answered it over the years in different ways.”
When the Sungei Road Thieves’ Market was gazetted for permanent closure, Singaporean visual artist Teo Eng Seng felt he had to join in the public conversation. “The flea market has been in existence for over 80 years. Many of my artworks were created from objects bought from there,” says the 78-year-old recipient of the Cultural Medallion.
Compelled to address this issue, he initiated the Karung Guni Uncles project with President’s Young Talent recipient and artist, Ben Puah.
“With installation art, you need the luxury of time. But when you have to respond to an urgent matter, performance art is the most effective way,” says Teo who has, in his career, dabbled in oil painting, invented the Paperdyesculpt, and used installation and performance art for social commentary.
He still keeps abreast of local and world news, and is currently working on a double-sided 60-metre acrylic painting. “It’s an abstract painting about life. I’m using five layers to achieve the subtlety I need, and have been working on it for a year,” he reveals. “I want to make my work the best it can be. I’ll stop when I cannot lift my brush and paint. Otherwise, why would I want to stop?”
For Angela Liong, co-founder and artistic director of contemporary dance group, Arts Fission, engagement with an art form is a fluid process, and changes as one evolves. “You can call me a dancer, a choreographer, a movement artist. In a sense, my art form allows me opportunities beyond just the physical level of performing. So even if I can’t turn or jump like I used to, I can still do something else that enables me to acknowledge all the learning and all the experiences I have gathered in the field.”
While she’s fully active as a choreographer and artistic director, Liong has started working with seniors through a movement programme called Everyday Waltzes for Active Aging. Inspired by her experience working with Samsui women in Little Lee I: the Forgotten Journey Home (2003), she developed a curriculum in 2009, which has since been implemented in several nursing homes and senior activity centres.
“It’s different from teaching them the cha-cha or waltz,” Liong says. “For example, with the Samsui women, we take their gesture of tying their very long hair into a bun and turn it into a dance movement. The movement is connected to a mental image derived from everyday routines. As you’re performing it, it triggers a kind of muscle memory.”
Liong’s constant evolution is fuelled by her insatiable curiosity about life. Arts Fission’s repertoire reveals the diversity of her interests, from climate change and cultural loss to aging in the big city. “The only way I can make sense of it all is through creating work. When you’ve lived through and gathered enough experiences, failures and successes, you gain a certain creative confidence to do that.”
While some act on their creative impulse early, others take a scenic route. For Padma Sagaram, 67, theatre is something she’s enjoyed since her school days, but circumstances did not allow her to pursue it. “I only started being involved in theatre when I was 53, after retiring to care of my first grandson,” she reveals. Enrolling in a drama workshop for seniors by Drama Plus was the start. “There were over 50 participants, all aged 50 and above. I enjoyed it thoroughly!”
In 2008, Sagaram was selected from a field of 200 seniors to be part of a three-year programme spearheaded by The Necessary Stage. Theatre for Seniors not only trained her in acting, directing, scriptwriting, sound and lighting, she was also cast in The Necessary Stage’s main season productions like October, Gitanjali and Pioneer (Girls) Generation. “My proudest achievement was when October was nominated for the Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards for Best Ensemble.”
Now that she’s fulfilled her family commitments, Sagaram feels she’s able to fully live her dream of reaching out to people through theatre. She helps with training other seniors at Theatre for Seniors’ basic training workshop. “I’ve never considered age to be an obstacle to pursuing my dreams,” she says. “Also, there’s no better way to meet people, interact, and enjoy your best years!”
Leong Cheng Chit is a trained engineer with first-class honours in naval architecture. For much of his working life, he was an economic development planner in a government statutory board. While looking for something to occupy his time after retirement, he stumbled upon origami.
“In 1999, origami artists around the world were engaged in a so-called ‘bugs war’ — folding complex models of insects and crustaceans to one-up each other. I said to myself, this is something I can make a contribution to!” he recounts. “Origami has been elevated from a craft to an art form in the past few decades because of the infusion of science and mathematics. My training as an engineer and a naval architect has helped in my design of origami artworks.”
Leong explains that he’s able to conceptualise 3D forms from flat material, like a ship’s hull from flat steel plates. “For a ship hull, you cut away the excess sections of the steel plates, roll them and weld them together. For origami, you find ways of folding the excess paper and tucking the folds away.”
His complex designs include the Merlion, T-Rex and the Arowana, which he gifted to then-Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Goh Chok Tong, for his birthday. This Chinese New Year, he created 28 intricate pieces of origami art — including animals from the Chinese Zodiac — which were displayed at the St Regis Singapore, and sold to raise funds for charity. Prices ranged from S$388 to S$888.
For Leong, origami has morphed from a retirement hobby to a full-blown passion. “I’m relatively well-known now among other origami artists,” he says with a chuckle. “We exchange ideas by email, and attend conferences to present papers. I also regularly send in diagrams of my creations for publication.”
If you caught the National Day Parade this year, you would have spotted a grandma rocking an electric guitar solo! Eighty-one-year-old Mary Ho — or Grandma Mary, as she is affectionately called — started learning the guitar at the ripe old age of 60.
“When my grandchildren grew up, I had more time on my hands. I’ve wanted to play the guitar since I was a child, but I didn’t have the chance or time,” she says, adding that prior to this, she could not read notes or tablature. “But I have a good ear and passion!”
The electric guitar was a natural choice as she loves Carlos Santana, and enjoys playing the blues, Latin rock, and country and western music. In 2007, she released an album titled Grandma Mary’s Latin Rock, which features Santana’s ‘Samba Pa Ti’, ‘Black Magic Woman’ and ‘Europa’, and some of her favourite songs such as ‘Maria Elena’ and ‘Besame Mucho’.
“I’m not a professional guitar player. It’s just a hobby I take seriously and am passionate about,” Ho says. “Picking up a new art form is fulfilling. I do what I love and I love what I do! My greatest joy is being able to express myself on the guitar, and to share that joy of music with others.”
If it’s not already clear, meaningful possibilities arise when you pick up that guitar or paint brush, or put on those dancing shoes. There is no ‘retirement’ when it comes to self-expression. The only difference is that, perhaps, one’s voice resonates with deeper perspective and experience.
“When it comes to the arts, the word ‘retire’ is obsolete. It doesn’t exist in our vocabulary,” Angela Liong says firmly. “I think in this day and age, the word needs to be redefined, or somebody has to come up with a better word.”
Coffee Morning & Afternoon Tea
(The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay)
Reminisce together as veteran Singaporean artists belt out golden hits of yester-year in English and Chinese every first Monday of the month. Typically held in the Recital Studio, this popular series of concerts has expanded to include three concerts a year in Esplanade’s Concert Hall.
National Silver Academy
(Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts)
Interested in learning Western oil painting, paper flowers crafting, or practical story writing? You can register for NAFA’s part-time courses, offered by their Centre for Lifelong Education. Weekly classes are open to those aged 50 and above.
Art Conversations in Dialect
(National Gallery Singapore)
More than a guided tour of the National Gallery, Art Conversations encourage seniors to engage in dialogue with the docents. Selected artworks include familiar scenes of kampongs, Chinatown, and so on. Conducted in English and Mandarin, Art Conversations now offers dialect tours, upon group request. To register, email email@example.com with name, contact number and preferred dialect.
Esplanade Presents: A Date with Friends
(The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay)
Held over a weekend, the Esplanade’s dedicated festival for seniors features evergreen sing-alongs, boogieing to the hits of yesteryear, Getai, and Pop Yeh Yeh. Seniors can also pick up a new skill at the craft and dance workshops. 8 to 11 March 2018.
Songs of Guidance by Toy Factory
22 to 23 Sep, Victoria Theatre
From the opera stage to the theatre, renowned street opera artiste Oon Ah Chiam, 74, performs her repertoire of classic Hokkien tunes with actors Sugie Phua and Judee Tan joining her on stage. Directed by her son, Goh Boon Teck (Toy Factory’s chief artistic director), with music direction by Elaine Chan.
Syair Biola (Songs from the Violin)
16 to 17 Sep, Our Tampines Hub, Festive arts Theatre
Written and directed by Cultural Medallion recipient, Nadiputra, this entertaining theatre production explores inter-racial relationships and friendships through witty dialogue and live music. Performed in Malay, English and Mandarin, with surtitles.
Double Bill: No Parking on Odd Days & The Coffin is Too Big
for the Hole by Nine Years Theatre
9 to 10 Sep, Our Tampines Hub, Festive arts Theatre
Directed by Nelson Chia, this double bill features two of late theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun’s most famous monologues. While both works have been staged in English and Mandarin, this is the first time they will be performed in Cantonese and Teochew.
Rocking Good Times
10 Sep, SOTA Concert Hall
Join emcee Brian Richmond and relive the sounds of the Swinging Sixties when three popular Singaporean bands — Pest Infested, The Trailers, and The Straydogs – take the stage together, for one night only!
1 to 24 Sep, Golden Village cinemas
A selection of short films and feature films, curated to tell heart-warming stories on living life to the fullest and holding our loved ones close to us. Don’t miss Happy to See You Too (by Yee Chang Kang) and Rayqal (by Sufyan Sam’an), both specially commissioned for Silver Arts 2017.