Reflections of Dogma – Everything a Singapore classroom shouldn't be

By Naresh Subhash
Photos: Main Image and Excerpt 2 (EMMOHEE SINGAPORE 2014), Excerpt 1 ("HAYTCHDEEBEE" PREMIUM PAPER EDITION)

A digital illustration created by Dan Wong 

Emmoheee_Dan_wong.jpg

There comes in every generation within a society a special moment when someone does something incredibly bold and iconic that you wished you fucking did it. Dan Wong, a graduate from the school of Art, Design and Media – Nanyang Technological University – illustration works not only is orgasmic to the eyes but puts whatever conception you had of the island city State Singapore in a complete spin.

“Emmohee” is his critic of the Singaporean education system. However, knowing most people who haven’t had the opportunity to actually see art in a global sense immediately dissects the work as piece with no real importance. But should you actually take the time to understand the incredibly mind boggling state of the Singaporean education system, this work is beyond a satire, it is almost a maddening scream into a system where the young implode within themselves in a situation as dire as it were a nightmare one cannot wake up from.

But who is Dan Wong in all of this? Dan – as how I have always known him to be, has always been an odd piece out of the norm in school. His sense of humour is both dark and yet sometimes not so profound. But I had the opportunity of having him play the lead character in my thesis film, when I decided that I was done with fucking around egoistic film students, and licking the ass of a professor who basically had an ego the size of the Great Wall of China. There I met the artist Dan Wong, who understood the intricate subtleties in sending out a satire as art.

“Emmoheee” does more than merely illustrate an idea, it draws us back into the elements which most Singaporean students are more than familiar with. Take for instance the classroom in which the scene is depicted – it is almost a replicate copy of the ideal classroom one would find in the illustration of the “Good Citizens” course book in primary school. While the classroom remains an iconic element in the piece, no longer houses the ideal students that it normally does in our course books. The scene is almost as if taken out of the Battle Royale manga – Students on a self destructive mission – the tragedy of the scene seems to be that this sense of hopelessness happens almost solely within the walls the classroom or in this sense educational institution.

The guy's cheekiness begins with the title itself, “Emmoheee” pronounced as “M.O.E” is also the abbreviated word of the Ministry of Education – thereby directing the work toward the education policies and practices common in Singapore.

Trained as graphic designer within the visual communications in school, Dan's true passion lies in illustration. He is the type of individual whom you would imagine walks past you and you completely forget in a few seconds, but when it comes to his work, you are caught arrested in awe and a tinge of jealousy. Beyond the almost comical representation of Dan, when talking to him, you find yourself in the company of a sensitive and genuinely interested individual. I think this aspect of Dan is something that manifests directly into the nature and voice of his works. When one looks at “Emmoheee” and other works carefully, I notice characters that are almost self-portraits of the artist himself.

Is it a subconscious or a conscious insertion? These characters do not normally seem to be doing anything incredibly dramatic in the diorama of the scenes they are in, however, are observers who inevitably find themselves in the situations. This is exactly the kind of sensitivity and maturity that one comes to expect from Dan Wong, in his works he is incredibly articulate of his position and the narrative that allows him to be an excellent artist whose works should be taken seriously.

So as I was writing this article, I stumbled upon yet another barrage of world wide web talk, this time another merging artist who coincidently also graduated from the same university was airing her opinion on the work itself. Now, being a man, I was intrigued by the sudden by the buzz that this work was giving, she ends her post as such “I can't help but feel disappointed and even insulted when I look at this piece of work. But it is important just as well for me to recognize the importance of the freedom of speech.” Needless to say, I was stumped, bewildered, shocked, think of all the words that can describe one being caught off guard and indirectly insulted.

On one hand I retract my assertion that Singaporeans take a passive aggressive stance toward critical thought. On the other hand, I would dare suggest the Singaporean artist community now have to define what really is the role of an artist. All political artwork originate from a complaint, a suggestion that something is not right, an introspection of society from the viewpoint of the artist. This work is no different – it states the complaint as defined by the scene, it then presents the current state of affairs but goes on to suggest the possibility of carnage through the stylistic elements employed. I disagree with the young photographer's assertion that this work is purely whiny, it is perhaps a shallow simplification of the work as whole. Politically directed artwork, when not critical but masks itself as an observation is like a penis with an erectile dysfunction. On the other hand, political work with a feel-good constructive approach is as good as propaganda.

Dan Wong has teamed up with likeminded “Citizens” in creating an art collective, they showcase their works on www.agoodcitizenobeys.com. While I’m a fan of his work, my only critic would be that their website should also embody the decadence and ballsy approach as their works. I think if you are really going to put an opinion out into the public you either make sure you have a good set of low hanging and orb-like balls that are not as easily detachable, or sleep with the right people who will always have your back. I prefer the former.