Posted on January 30 2018
Firstly, how would you describe your relationship with illustration and design?
I enjoy drawing. I’ve always been a big fan of drawing and my family’s quite creative — my dad is a calligrapher, my sister is a full-time artist — so we grew up with a lot of support towards artistic expression. In university, I picked up drawing and designing again and was under the impression that I possessed a lot of interest in graphic design because of the modules I was doing.
It wasn’t until I finished school and worked as a graphic designer that I decided to pursue my Masters, which was focused on communication design. I don’t have a strict practice but drawing is something I’ve always fallen back on.
What about your style — was it something that you stumbled upon, or actively worked towards it?
Drawing was never a deliberate decision for me. Rather, it was something I picked up on as I was developing my own creative practice. I don't think I draw as much as other artists. I spend more time thinking about things.
It all started on Tumblr (laughs). If you actually bother scrolling down my page, you’d notice a ton of simple line drawings. After I was introduced to a tablet, I started developing my skills digitally. I don’t have a specific preference but I do have influences — like American cartoonist Anders Nilsen, writer and artist Edward Gorey and writer Shel Silverstein.
It’s interesting that you mentioned Tumblr — a platform that many millennial artists found their voice on. How was that experience like for you?
It was a huge part of shaping what I’m currently doing. Being part of a community that actively forms discussions. That helped me gain confidence and eventually built courage in me to build something of my own. I’m no longer that active on Tumblr as work and life gradually took priority.
Though I would say Tumblr was a crucial starting point for me. Through these discussions, I was exposed to social justice, feminism, capitalism and poverty. Not all is great, of course. It was also from the platform that I witnessed the evil side of things. It’s funny looking back as I realised all my friends on Tumblr read Marx when they were 15 because they took sociology modules at that age, while I only started at 22.
How do you juggle between being a writer, illustrator, and designer when creating The Ideology?
As an artist starting out, you don’t really have much money to play around with, and everything is pretty much ‘own time own target’ — that was my way of working on my own projects, at least. Graphic design was something that I picked up in university and because of that, I’m able to design the layout of the magazine. Writing and drawing are things I’ve done my entire life. It started with writing in journals and drawing out frustrations. Eventually, it grew to become a part of me.
For me, they come hand in hand. There are some artists who are able to work with just visuals but personally, it’s never one or the other. I’ve always written captions to my illustrations and I think that provides a lot more context and possibilities to my work. In that way, the illustrations serve as a visual narration to my messages. It’s important to me that my works aren’t misconstrued.
The first issue: then and now
The Ideology was originally meant as an individual effort. I did not really expect it to morph into the social publication it is now. The first issue (which was also my Master’s thesis) was an opinion piece on capitalism. As the publication branches out to become a full-fledged magazine, I now have to think a lot more thoughtfully about the issues that I talk about — it’s no longer about me, but also the publisher and who’s reading it.
How do you see the role of independent magazines in our culture?
I see magazines as a way to introduce a certain theme or culture.
Every magazine has its own culture — such as Little White Lies (a movie critique magazine), which inspires a certain crowd who view and appreciate illustrations as a way of expression.
This is, of course, an entirely different demographic as compared to a food magazine, for example. In that sense, the magazine builds and empowers a community of people.
It gathers people to discuss certain issues affecting their culture or society. A magazine also allows for ongoing conversations.
What do you think magazine makers should do more of to push the scene forward?
I think there’s value in independent magazines. Magazines like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, TimeOut, The Economist possess great value but they are also enabled by stakeholders, which mean that they would usually have to answer to someone at the top.
In that respect, niche magazines tend to build a more committed following as the content is based mostly, if not entirely on what would interest the reader. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s not important or shouldn’t be worthy of hearing.
I do think the magazine scene is quite saturated as there are tons of us out here but that doesn’t dismiss the fact that people should be encouraged to allow themselves access and exploration into these various platforms.
I came across your work for The Penguin Random House Design Award in which you reinterpreted the cover for Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Is book cover design something you’d like to dabble in the near future?
No. I used to dream of becoming a graphic or creative designer. However, that changed after pursuing my Masters and finding more importance in social policies and understanding.
I still love drawing and doing creative work but that will remain a hobby. I don’t think that I’ll be pursuing graphic design as a career option but I’m interested in expanding my academic voice. I want to study more, learn more, to be able to talk more with a voice that more people would want to listen to.
It’s all tied to The Ideology — fighting capitalism, understanding people and why we are the way we are. Rather than saying all these skills are things that I’ve left behind, they are now my guiding tools in creating the magazine.
You mainly write about relationships, social and political issues — what are topics that you think are most crucial right now?
On a global context, it would be capitalism — especially the late capitalism structure where everything is focused on hyper-individuality, hyper-consumerism and power to super corporations.
Nowadays, we believe so much in ourselves and focus on ourselves so much that we tend to disregard the bigger picture. Many issues are connected. For example, capitalism might be an issue on its own but it’s also something that can be perpetuated by racism.
In Singapore we have Chinese privilege and racism, which I think have always been swept under the rug. There are many forms of negative categorisations and our communities are more separate than we think.
Misunderstandings and stereotypes about certain people prevent us from growing culturally.
Under the façade of being racial harmony society, we’re actually an extremely racist bunch. And because I’m brought up in an environment like that, I will be perpetuating racist tendencies (even if it’s subconscious) — I’m trying to change that. It’s important for Chinese people in Singapore to recognise that as well.
I just finished The Handmaid’s Tale, very depressing indeed. I studied the book for my A-levels literature and at that time did not realise it was so realistic especially under Trump’s presidency, fascism and Nazism. We all think that it will never happen but it can. With authority and power comes blocking out different groups of people and eventually we’ll be left with a single structure that’s easy to brainwash or control.
If we aren’t aware of these things and are constantly living under the presupposed comfort and contentment of having a house and good healthcare to shelter us in, eventually problems will arise and we will start realising that it’s too late to manage any effective change. I think that’s what worries me – people getting too comfortable. It’s time people start standing up to these things. I can see change going but I believe that change has to be impactful and geared towards a positive direction.
We’re constantly brought up to listen to people in power. I don’t believe in commercialisation or that big organisations can save us.
How do you think art can help us make sense of the world better?
With social media, Google and Facebook algorithm, our influence is individualised. In that way, we have set up boundaries for ourselves. All we see are artists and art that are shown to us because it’s ‘relevant’ to whatever we have been exposed to previously.
Though, with personalisation comes more appreciation. I feel that nowadays, more people are able to see value in it. Art will always be here. It has been here for thousands of years and will continue to do so.
Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon have been creating amazing shows like Adventure Time and Steven Universe — shows that are diverse, creative but also kind and compassionate.
I think art is no longer about the artist anymore. For example, having been to the Yayoi Kusama exhibition in Singapore last year, I felt that it was very self-absorbed. I get that it’s about her experience and struggles, which is fine — but that is something that was cultivated in the 1960s and 70s because of hyper-individualism.
I think artist expression, because of that, has become so focused on the individual and doesn’t critique the society like it should. It has become more about self-expression and less about pulling people together to achieve something bigger.
Self-absorption is a very conflicting issue, even for myself. Sometimes I feel like I can’t ever do good by focusing way too much on myself. Maybe that’s why they say all artists go to hell. But we can be so much better! I do hope that portraits, for example, will eventually become less self-absorbed and involve more people.
Do you think the self-absorbed nature of art can come hand in hand with improving our political and social climate?
Yes, I can see that. In a sense, we’re all cultured to be individuals and because of that, we start caring about something that affects us. When you’re self-absorbed, you’re self-aware and that’s when you start thinking about the bigger picture — how do we solve these problems and issues?
I do think that we’re still stuck at that stage of tracking Facebook and Instagram likes. I’m just waiting for us to be able to move beyond that to being conscious individuals who know how what we do can impact or affect other people.
You also believe in gender equality. If you could change one thing about how feminism is addressed or perceived these days, how would you?
Celebrity feminism. I feel that people who speak from a level of privilege bring about feminism that’s apolitical.
I hope that people will stop relying on pop culture for information. I’m a huge believer in intersectionality — I believe that people who’re oppressed should have more of a voice and celebrities, in that case, should use their position of power to put these voices out there rather than speaking over them.
What are your goals for The Ideology moving forward?
Hopefully, I’ll find more people to create the upcoming issues with. I’m only one person with a single voice — that isn’t enough to determine what the world is.
Moving forward, The Ideology should be a collection of opinions, structure and understanding. That’s what makes a magazine so valuable — when you have so many different opinions from writers, editors, and contributors.
I hope that the audience will grow with that. I’m more focused on the accessibility of the magazine — to have more people reading it. My main focus was always so that people can access the material no matter where they are.
To acknowledge that education is a privilege and spread the knowledge I’ve learned beyond. My hope is that this voice against capitalism can grow, especially in Singapore where we don’t have many people realising the dangers of capitalism. Where is it believed to help with economic growth. I would like more people to know that there are alternatives.
There are so many things going wrong with the world and The Ideology is just my way of compartmentalising my thoughts, trying to make sense of the world and hoping that more people will gain a greater understanding of the various issues of humankind.
Now that I’m in a more academic position, my work has evolved from the knowledge I’ve gotten online or social discussions online to acquiring critical thought about these issues and relating them to our circumstances. America is not an isolated country and a lot of what it does actually impact the rest of the world as well. It’s important to be able to apply to a local context.