IN CONVERSATION WITH SINGAPORE’S PASSION AMBASSADORS: THE CULTURE SHAPER

In this exciting series, we’re speaking to Visit Singapore’s expert Passion Ambassadors, to find out what they do, why they love it, and to get their insider tips on life in the Lion City. For our latest edition, we chatted with Jahan Loh, a contemporary artist who famously turned a ‘Ma Ling’ luncheon meat tin into pop art.

As the first artist to bring street art to galleries in both Singapore and China, Jahan has been credited for taking Singapore Pop Art international, and has influenced modern art practices in Taiwan. In 2011, his works were selected by the Andy Warhol Foundation to be showcased in Andy Warhol’s exhibition, ‘15 Minutes Eternal’, at the ArtScience Museum. Here’s what Jahan had to say about art, Singapore and his inspirations…

Can you tell us about your role as a Passion Ambassador for Visit Singapore?

I believe that the Singapore Tourist Board’s website says it best, haha! In all seriousness though, there’s a sense of pride in being able to represent my country in such a way. I am honoured to be a part of this. The Passion Made Possible team has worked extremely hard this past year to showcase our homegrown talents, and ultimately it’s about capturing the spirit of our people. Everywhere you turn, you can see that we are a people who dare to dream. My role as an ambassador is to tell my side of the story that (hopefully) encapsulates that. I was part of the ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ campaign in Los Angeles, and having met fellow men and women who are so good at what they do, and whose stories are so inspirational, I’m really proud to call myself Singaporean.

You swapped a career in law for a new path as an artist. Why?

I guess I was fortunate to find my calling in art. It’s like finding ‘true love’, if you will. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but once you’ve found your passion for something, that’s the eureka moment. And it’s something that keeps you up late at night, and you know that there will be many sacrifices along the way, but that’s okay. So even though I was accepted into law school, I knew it wasn’t for me; I’ve always known that I wanted to pursue art. I’m just awfully thankful that my parents were so supportive, even though it might not have been what they wanted for me at the time.

Describe your art and its influences…

Rather than talk about my style, I’d say that my art is a reflection of my inner geek. When I’m not painting, I’m reading up on world and art history, conspiracy theories and biographies. But I also love my comics and toys. I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between religion and science, particularly space travel, because there’s still so much we don’t know about the universe – or if we are even able to fully comprehend its mysteries. I’ve been exploring that in my art over the last few years. My latest series is about climate change. It’s really a dark cautionary tale about the horrors of discovering that there’s no Plan(et) B when Earth becomes uninhabitable.

Who inspires you?

I started out in street art, so I would say that some of the older generation artists such as Futura and Phase2 were huge inspirations for my journey as an artist. Lonny (Phase2) gave me the best advice that really changed my perspective as an artist. I’m also quite the closet skateboard geek, and a huge fan of Jim Phillips and Steve Caballero. The latter might be a skateboard legend, but he’s also a really excellent artist. I’m really fortunate to have had the chance to work with them both. 

Can you tell us about some of your favourite Singaporean artists and designers?

There are many great artists and designers in Singapore, but if I have to condense that list, I must say I love the works of Mister Tucks. He’s an artist who’s doing something different, with a very original style. One of my favourite local designer brands is Supermama by Edwin Low and Mei Ling; I really like the way they translate modern design and art into age-old, traditional porcelain.

How has Singapore influenced and coloured your artwork?

Some of my earlier works draw on my ‘Rojak’ childhood. I have many fond memories as a kid, growing up on a diet of comics from the West and the East, spending all my pocket money on toys, not forgetting cassettes and VHS tapes. I was soaking in all the different elements from all over. These were some of my most carefree years. The city has changed so much since, but it continues to inspire me. Today’s an exciting time to be an artist. 

What makes Singapore’s art scene unique?

There’s so much diversity here, and it’s also nice that there’s so much support from the government. Everyone has a chance to pursue their dreams. There’s a lot to look forward to.

What have been some of your proudest moments as an artist?

To be able to meet and work with my idols, really! I’m so thankful for that.

Can you tell us about some of your favourite art galleries and museums in Singapore?

I like hanging out at the National Gallery Singapore because the space is so inviting, and I always look forward to the exhibitions there. I also like going to the Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore – studying and admiring nature really amazes me.

Where does the art crowd hang out and let off steam, when it comes to food and drink?

I can’t speak for the rest, but I am a Zouk kid at heart.

Where do you go to relax and switch off?

I’m pretty much a homebody, but I do enjoy a good massage and some quality reading material. One of the top places I like to go to unwind is Esplanade, whether it’s enjoying the breeze and the views of Marina Bay, or a nice performance.

 What’s next for you? 

I’m working on my latest series for a museum show next year, but before that, a pop-up at Lane Crawford Shanghai!

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