Previously located along a quiet part of Peninsular Excelsior Shopping Centre on the upper floor, I_S_L_A_N_D_S used to cover the noticeboards there with artworks for an unexpected encounter from 2017 to 2018. The experimental project space now occupies a shopfront at the basement level of the same mall as of April 2020, with full-length glass doors and walls to be able to peer inside. I have always enjoyed viewing works that engage and come alive in the alternative space, as it encourages artists to experiment with the boundaries of their practice be it through the medium or their concepts.
Currently, the I_S_L_A_N_D_S space is taken over by artist-curators Erman Ashburn, Lizzie Wee, and Shen Jia Qi for its short-term presentations. They have just ended Lizzie Wee’s presentation of Unlit Matches and are currently showing Marla Bendini’s WE WILL ALWAYS BE HERE. The latter is a transgender, cross-disciplinary artist who narrates her stories and experiences about love, relationship, trauma, identity, and otherness through her works. These themes were seen in her recent exhibition Fairy Conclave and duo exhibition You Can Tell Mewith Victoria Cantons at Cuturi Gallery.
In her latest work, WE WILL ALWAYS BE HERE, visitors are confronted with a giant mirror with silver butterflies making up the title of the work on it. An interesting interaction begins as viewers see themselves reflected in the work, and triggers a moment of self-reflection or taking a look at ourselves while trying to view the work. Bendini says that art-making is a reflective process for herself where she checks on her emotions and happenings in her life, and also a way of prayer to a higher power that knows, reassures and loves her unconditionally; all of which can be seen clearly in this intimate piece. In a sense, the way it is displayed in a public setting also invites viewers to become more honest and vulnerable, in a moment of our daily lives passing through. Her installation will be shown at Excelsior Shopping Centre, B1-07B until 27th February 2022.
Tell us about your experience making this work for an interesting space like I_S_L_A_N_D_S .
Coincidentally, I was approached by the I_S_L_A_N_D_S & the Hyphen Project curatorial team to present works for window space installations concurrently in February. I worked on mostly paintings and showing in gallery spaces for the last three years so it was really refreshing to be able to work on these two public installations at the start of a new year.
I spent the last couple of months thinking about what bodies, subcultures and communities get to occupy these spaces and what narratives get to be told and how I want the work to affirm and celebrate that energy while challenging the existing structures.
Why butterflies and mirrors?
The butterfly is a universal symbol of personal growth, transformation and freedom. It is also a powerful symbol for the trans community. When I think about my work, it doesn't just come from a transgender narrative. It’s not just a story about what it’s like to be trans, it’s a story that we all can relate to. It’s a universal story calling us to do the most difficult thing of all - to love ourselves, fully.
I also considered the idea of censorship and freedom of speech while reversing the oppressive gaze in this text-based work so I thought of using mirrored butterflies spelling out bold statements while somehow able to camouflage for their personal safety.
What are some things you do as part of your self-love routine?
I enjoy going on walks, swimming and badminton. I love to move and play, get all sweaty and tingly and most importantly, the physical reminder that my value does not lie in how my body looks but how it feels!
I also enjoy having a meal and drinks with my family or chosen family, sometimes also to whine and share things that have been bothering me.
It hasn't been easy learning to put myself first but it takes practice and it gets easier- my mental health and overall well-being has really improved :)
Where did you get your inspiration for this work? Tell us about your artistic process.
Butterflies everywhere - on the train, on my walks, even on afternoon reruns of TCS drama! I think inspiration is a playful relationship between the seen and unseen. I pay attention to synchronicities as a wink from the universe to snap out of my limiting thoughts and insecurities for a moment and consider the possibility of the divine. One that loves and reassures me unconditionally and has got my back. My obsessive thoughts are my biggest enemy sometimes and these moments of luminosity gives me strength and encouragement to continue doing the things that are important to me while remembering to smile and not take life too seriously!
You said that art is a reflective process for you a check-in on how you feel and what is going on with your life. How did you feel when you made this work and how do you feel now that it is complete?
I've been experiencing gender dysphoria and dissonance lately so looking at the mirror and positioning these butterflies for extended hours has been a sort of quiet meditative process for me to work through these feelings with patience, kindness and purpose.
I think a work is never complete and it's always leading up to something else or yearning for connection and meaning but on my part, I'm glad I trusted my intuition and things worked out great!
Marla Bendini (b. 1986, Singapore) is a cross-disciplinary artist and trans woman working in painting, text, sound, performance and installation to tell stories about lived experiences, love, relationship, trauma and otherness. Her works are often imbued with notions of spirituality, divinities and mythologies to elevate the complexities of these subject matters towards collective healing. Marla believes the personal is political and our storytelling prompts us to seek alternatives towards community building as we resist the hegemony of social, cultural and national narratives.
Recent solo exhibitions include "Fairy Conclave", @cuturigallery (2021); "Back Room", Cuturi Gallery (2020); "April Fools", Coda Culture (2020)
Recent group exhibitions include "Falling", Tang Contemporary (2021); "You Can Tell Me" (2021), Cuturi Gallery (2020); “Precious Things", Coda Culture (2020).