Q & A with Curator Khairuddin Hori & Speak Cryptic

Chan + Hori Contemporary
May 24, 2017 5:21AM

Knives in the Water

Solo Exhibition by Speak Cryptic

Speak Cryptic, 179 936 (2017), Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 40 cm

1. How does a street artists' artwork become accepted by the mainstream art world?

KH: For a discipline that is made up of a community that consistently projects itself with openness, the visual arts also appear compartmentalised. Artists who are autodidacts, engaged with street and popular cultures, working predominantly outside of galleries, museums and art centers are typically categorized as ‘street’ or ‘urban’ artists. Traditionally, curators, art historians and theorists shun the incorporation of dialogues these ‘street’ artists offer within any form of scholastic discourse.

The work of some of these ‘street’ artists usually gains visibility and mainstream popularity because of various advertising-led commissions by corporate bodies. The visibility, popularity and mass appeal strengthens the position of the artists and their art, leading to their entrance into the mainstream ‘art world’ consciousness, acceptance as contemporary artists and presence in museums and art centres.

I would like to point out that Speak Cryptic is not an autodidact like most ‘street’ artists as he has been through the art school system, specializing in fine art. However, it is his modus-operandi to present works mostly as temporary murals with aesthetics that are closely associated with urban and sub-cultures that has perhaps resulted in him being unfairly labelled. This is similar to the cases of internationally regarded artists today such as KAWS, Cleon Peterson, Barry McGee and OBEY aka Shepard Fairey.

Speak Cryptic, Installation Image: Knives in the Water, 2017

2. Speak Cryptic’s artwork captures the essence of his “tribe". What does it mean to be part of a “tribe” in today’s world?

KH: The concept of a “tribe” is an age-old organization for social order, where hierarchies and collective identification are highly visible and easily differentiated via symbols and shared manifestos. In our capitalistic era, the “tribe” concept comes from the embodiment of collective loyalty and attitudes instilled by alternative lifestyle choices, allegiance towards specific brands and style preferences. We see these “tribes” develop everywhere in the urban sprawl not only as a form of collective, physiological association, but as global connectedness and existence. In the work of Speak Cryptic, one of the main strands connecting his “tribe” is the love of rock and punk music and ethos within the landscape of Singapore.

3. Could you speak more about Baweanese culture and how it has influenced this body of work?

KH: Baweanese people are part of the Indo-Malay ethnic group. They originated from Bawean Island off the coast of Java and were first recorded in Singapore in a census conducted under British colonial rule. Baweanese speak with a blend of Javanese and Indonesian and are a major component of the reconditioned Malay race profile of Singapore. Aside from their unique language, the Baweanese retain certain outstanding characteristics and cultural practices that identify and separate them from the generic Malay classification.

Traditionally, the Baweanese in Singapore are associated with their expertise in maritime industries due to their strong sailing background as well as professional horse groomers for competitive horse related sports. Like most of the early Chinese settlers in Singapore, Baweanese also have a strong clan culture as part of their organized, economic and spiritual support for new migrants being classified by the various villages they hail from.

Speak Cryptic’s family is of Baweanese heritage and until today, they continue to maintain relations with their family from the villages of origin. The artist himself had visited Bawean island as a young man. This visit left an indelible mark in his consciousness as an adult excavating heritage and personal identity amidst an urbanized Singapore occupied with western habits. This is the reason why we can see traditional, alternative and urban identities present within his art.

Speak Cryptic, Ceremonial Headdress (2017), Ink on paper, 29.7 x 21 cm

4. Are Speak Cryptic’s headdresses functional or are they strictly decorative? What does it mean to have the faces and eyes concealed?

KH: In negotiating his personal and public identities, Speak Cryptic found himself having to constantly put on various hats or masks as a form of introverted compensation. This explains the variety of headdresses, masks and the perennial concealment of faces of the characters he painted.

The origin of these headdresses lies in the traditional and sub-culture. Traditionally, they refer to headdresses commonly worn at the time of Indo-Malay sultanates, and in sub-culture, they refer to bandanas worn by Malay men in the 1970-1980s as decoration and a way to ‘perm’ the sides of their hair.

5. How lasting or important was the Punk movement to the generation?

KH: I would not say that it is critical to a ‘generation’ but more to the artist personally, as it is part of the core of his research on cultural origin.

6. There are several landscape paintings in Knives in the Water. The local hangouts are painted without people and are also in a state of decay. What meaning do these landscapes and their condition have to the artist and/or his "tribe"?

KH: From the works in Knives in the Water, one could detect contemplation, nostalgia and an anxiousness for the future. For the artist and those in the same generation, the speed of absolute change and the permanent extermination of establishments they grew up and identified with is devastating. Feeling almost powerless, as if skinned alive and stripped of the very layers that humanize their existence, this generation found themselves having to conform to templates of politicized constructs and social indoctrination. And beyond romanticized, nostalgic representation of time past, these images reveal a true frustration and a symbolic loss of their formative roots.

Speak Cryptic,Installation Image: Knives in the Water ,2017, 14 patches, editions of 3

7. It is not often an artist will paint live at the gallery during the exhibition. What can we expect from the artist before the closing party on 25th May?

KH: Speak Cryptic is used to producing murals in public spaces. The process in making these murals occur in the public realm, so painting ‘live’ in the gallery is not new for the artist. However, painting on canvasses, a material that could be conserved and collected is new.

Any member of the public, especially those interested in art and the anthropology behind these paintings could have access to the open process of their production and have direct, one-on-one conversation with the artist as he paints.

Chan + Hori Contemporary