Objectifs Chat: Wei Leng Tay
Objectifs is pleased to launch Convergence, Wei Leng Tay’s self-published book comprising 65 images forming an intimate look at segments of the Chinese community in Singapore and Malaysia.
Like many of her sitters, Wei Leng’s family had originally migrated from Southern China to Malaya and Singapore. Looking inward at her own disjuncture from the traditions and habits of her own culture, Wei Leng embarked on a journey that allowed her to discover shared experiences, histories and memories.
This book questions and records the changes current generations experience as they grow increasingly distant from their grandparents’ homeland, as attitudes and values shift with each generation. It also looks at how this Chinese community has evolved with characteristics shaped by the co-dependent history, and social landscapes particular to Singapore and Malaysia. The people that Wei Leng photographs for the project convey a contemporary take on the Chinese in her larger circle, free from the nostalgia and iconography commonly used to identify segments of the Chinese Diaspora.
Caterina from Objectifs chats with Wei Leng to find out about the thought process behind the work.
Caterina: How did the idea for this project come about?
Wei Leng: I felt dissociated from my history and ‘Chinese-ness’, and wanted to explore what that means, especially within the Singaporean and Malaysian framework.
Caterina: Why did you choose to use a book as a means of presenting this body of work?
Wei Leng: The work was first exhibited with the NUS Museum. The work was presented as an exhibition at Baba House, a Peranakan heritage home that the museum owned. The work was contextualised within that space – an early 20th century rich Chinese/Peranakan family home, and questioned the validity of that heritage for many of the Chinese in Singapore today.
The book presents the work differently than the exhibition in many ways and forces the viewer to experience the work in a different way – the linear form, the pacing, the size of the photographs, the interaction with the text, which is presented in a less subtle way than in the exhibition. I am also able to work with more photos in the book and have a more specific interplay between the photographs.
Caterina: What have you learnt from this project?
Wei Leng: That there is so much I don’t know. But I did start looking at our daily interactions now, and how we are, more as a result of our short history and events.
Caterina: Do you have some interesting stories about the shoots or the subjects to share?
Wei Leng: I interviewed many of the people I photographed, so there are many interesting, or for me surprising stories. Some of them talked about how they came to Malaya/Malaysia/Singapore, some talked about growing up, and others about their daily lives. It’s interesting hearing experiences and occurrences that make me think – I did that, or I know someone like that, and that’s one of the things that’s really powerful for me, that we have so many shared experiences that have shaped our views and interactions.
About the shoots: at one of the shoots I did in KL – at Hoi Yan’s home, a boxer (dog) walked into the family’s garden when we were photographing, just out of the blue. It was a beautiful dog. Very gentle with the children. I followed the family to a party afterwards, and we bought a bag of dog food thinking they would look after the dog while they looked for its owner for a few days. The dog stayed with the family for a few months, and one day just walked off, the same way it came.
Caterina: Your work revolves around people and their environment, what is it about a person’s living space that’s interesting to you?
Wei Leng: I think the living space tells you so much about a person. When we are outside our homes, we have public personas that are sometimes difficult to penetrate.
Convergence is now available at Objectifs, Kinokuniya, Select Books, and online here. If you’re in Malaysia, Convergence can also be found in Arecca Books in Penang.
ABOUT WEI LENG TAY
Wei Leng Tay’s practice examines how people’s relationships, priorities, and ways of life are shaped by the socio-political landscape of the places where they live. She has exhibited with organisations such as the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, the Selasar Sunaryo Art Space in Bandung, the National Museum of Singapore, Chulalongkorn University Art Center in Bangkok, the NUS Museum in Singapore, and the Center for Contemporary Art Prishtina in Kosovo. She has also participated in festivals such as the Noorderlicht International Photography Festival, the Netherlands, the International Photography Festival of Rome, the F/Stop International Photography Festival in Leipzig, PhotoEspana and the Delhi Photo Festival. Her work is collected by museums such as the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts, Japan, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, and the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.
Tay has also worked in editorial photography for more than a decade. She has photographed on assignment for publications such as Time, Fortune, and the New York Times Magazine, and also worked as a photo editor for Time and the Far Eastern Economic Review, among others.