Held in conjunction with the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) 80th Anniversary celebrations, Alma Matter is a visual art exhibition organized in collaboration with the NAFA Fine Art Alumni Chapter and Chan + Hori Contemporary. It features artists who have graduated from various fine art programmes at the academy in the past ten years. Curated by NAFA alumnus Khairuddin Hori, the exhibition takes its inspiration from a wordplay of alma mater - which ordinarily refers to an institution one has studied in and graduated from. In its original Latin form, alma refers to the act of nourishing. It is paired here with matter - referencing affairs relating to the concerns and practices of the artists. Placed together, Alma Matter alludes to the artists’ past training at the academy while simultaneously reflecting on their place in the contemporary art landscape of today.
In a conversation with the curator, artist Ong Si Hui considers herself ‘traditionally trained’ in sculpture at NAFA - a terminology hardly used by contemporary artists today. Strength in heritage, or the Nanyang style of art, is the hallmark of this pioneer arts institution. Yet, this is a quality that stands the test of time, contributing to both physiological and philosophical development of artists who went through its system.
Artists presented in Alma Matter engage with multiple disciplines and utilise new approaches and uncommon mediums in their practices. Take, for example, Ezzam Rahman’s sculptures made of his own skin or Sebastian Mary Tay’s photographs composed of sawdust, fog and light. Ella Wijt engages with faith and womanhood, while Cai Xiang elucidates the void between the conscious and subconscious as a reaction to personal health
conditions. Also on display are the camp and pageantry captured in the short-lived, gender-probing artistic practice of Khairul Ikhwan (deceased).
Usually associated with the notion of an academy combining orthodox Western and Chinese art traditions, these artists have moved on to establish themselves in the spirit of the contemporary and are emblematic of the ‘now’. Through their works, they have gravitated beyond local and regional concerns to incorporate a universalism that connects with human experiences.