Young Singaporean Artist Vanessa Liem Opens Solo Exhibition At Cuturi Gallery

Jolene Teo, Alien Space Crab, June 21, 2022

Vanessa Liem, Pleasure Puppets (Detail)2021. Oil on linen, 70cm x 50cm. All photos courtesy of the Artist and Cuturi Gallery. 


The exhibition is a very intimate and honest one, drawing from Liem’s personal life and mental state. While emotions and thoughts are laid bare and vulnerable through her depictions of alien-like mortal figures, there is also strength that comes from the sense of boldness and confrontation expressed in the way the images are rendered. 


Liem is known for her fascination and experimentations with the human figure, which began from her fever dreams. In her first solo exhibition  I Cried Bizarre, we see a young artist exploring ways to articulate these strange forms such that they look like bright and shiny, slender mannequins. Its plastic-like quality contorted into different shapes symbolised the emptiness and malleability of these characters in her works.


Exhibition view of I Cried Bizarre held at Cuturi Gallery last year.


The eerie, post-human aesthetics are further refined and amplified in the current exhibition which has opted for a darker, cooler-toned colour palette. Setting a more sombre tone of the exhibition, we see how Liem masterfully uses shadows and light to exaggerate the expressions and emotions behind it as seen in her Sleepwalker series. The works from the series depict a face with familiar features like our eyes, nose, mouths, and ears that are painted realistically in each piece. However, the colours and lighting make them seem alien-like (aside from the lack of hair and eyebrows) which draws the viewers in to analyse each of their expressions as they gaze off into the distance. 


Vanessa Liem, Sleepwalker #4, 2022. Oil on canvas, 40 x 40cm.

“For this series, I wanted to paint how a person felt, not how a person looked. These figures are variations of myself in states of anxiety, mania, vulnerability and numbness.”
— Vanessa Liem

Liem portrays these powerful and relatable feelings of isolation, comfort, intimacy, and vulnerability in her works ironically through these alien yet human-like figures, which injects a layer of complexity into her works. 


Stay Still (2022) shows a moment of comfort in desolation depicted by two bodies stacked on top of each other. The painting and its title captures the feelings of wanting to capture this moment permanently, though the flowing of the liquid over the pebbles is a silent reminder of how time continues to pass.


Vanessa Liem, Stay Still, 2021. Oil on linen, 101cm x 131cm.


Red Room (2022) draws from her personal memory of seeking solace in a familiar hideaway spot, and in this case her sister’s bedroom, which was furnished with red-coloured curtains and bedsheets. The light filtering into the room again plays manipulates lights and shadows, but this time accentuating the indoor setting where we can only catch a glimpse of the real world outside. The figure’s lack of limbs as she flops down on the bed illustrates her helplessness as a victim accepting her mental state as she detaches from reality. 

“By staying in seclusion and away from reality brings the question of whether this is self-care or self-sabotage?”
— Vanessa Liem

Vanessa Liem, Red Room, 2022.

Oil on canvas, 140cm x 110cm.


Vanessa Liem, Arrival, 2022. Oil on canvas,

180cm x 140cm.


Liem’s works brings forth important conversations about mental and emotional health, and how we manage them as we navigate through an increasingly complex world. Arrival (2022) shows a dominant standing figure with red eyes crowned with aurora lights in the background, meant to be devil horns, that gives an intimidating aura despite having its hands restrained behind it. The figure is flanked by two bodies latching onto its legs for support. The work points to how the figures are reclaiming the land, much like how she wishes to reclaim mental stability instead of being subservient to her emotions. The power dynamics and innate struggle depicted by the relationship between the three figures, creates a sense of constant tension in a delicate balance found in this composition.


This poignant telling of emotions, mental health, and escapism is one that is relatable to many today, presenting in a compelling manner by this young artist through her hauntingly mesmirising works. Vanessa Liem’s For The Time Beingwill be on view at Cuturi Gallery from 18th June to 10th July 2022. 


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