NEW YORK CITY | Jimmy Ong, a Singaporean contemporary artist noted for his large scale, figurative charcoal works on paper, is returning to Tyler Rollins Fine Art for his second solo exhibition with the gallery, entitled Elo Progo, taking place from January 10 – February 23, 2013. It’s a show, mostly video, about transgender themes.
The Elo Progo exhibition centers on Ong’s first public showing of video works, which were inspired by the rituals of water meditation and informed by themes of gender fluidity and mythic transformation.
In 2012, Ong’s investigation of the contemporary resonance of ancient myths led him to a series of projects in Yogyakarta, one of the major artistic centers in Java, Indonesia, where he began documentary research into gender roles as reflected in folklore as well as contemporary society, the latter specifically relating to the local transgender community.
His current exhibition, Elo Progo, takes its name and inspiration from the confluence of the Elo and Progo rivers – one said to be male, the other female – located in the Kedu Plain near Borobudur, one of Java’s sacred places. Ong was captivated by this local myth as well as the traditional Javanese practice of meditation in water.
The exhibition also includes a new body of works on paper, done in richly colored gouache, that appropriate a type of Chinese splash ink brushwork in mirrored patterns created by the repetitive folding of the paper along an axis. Through a circular and meditative process of drawing, transferring, and redrawing, which echoes the cyclical, ritualistic time of the videos, Ong has created a vivid series of works that features a recurring, androgynous figure. In various degrees of abstraction, the figure is shown twice in each work, in a mirroring of form that reflects Ong’s ongoing interest in ideas relating to duality, the gender binarism, and the fluidity and transformation of identity.
Ong’s first Tyler Rollins Fine Art exhibition took place two years ago. Ong presented Sitayana, a solo exhibition of new work, from January 14 – February 20, 2010. The exhibition was purchased by the National Art Gallery of Singapore and is now part of the museum’s permanent collection.
In recent years, Ong became fascinated with the Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic that recounts the exploits of Rama and his dutiful wife, Sita. This epic continues to play a vibrant role throughout Southeast Asia and provides an endless source of inspiration for the region’s folk and popular cultures. A Singaporean of Chinese decent who is now residing in the United States, Ong has brought his own unique viewpoint to this classic story. Inspired by the Ramayana’s characters and its dramatic themes of love, combat, and heroic adventure, he has created new narratives that are informed by his sensitivity to the way gender roles play out in contemporary relationships.
Ong has refocused the epic on the Sita character – hence the 2010 exhibition’s title, Sitayana. He presents powerful and at times disturbing images of female figures. Their muscularity and contorted, aggressive poses place them firmly in the traditionally male realm of heroic action, offering a blunt challenge to the traditional image of the obedient, submissive female. But Ong’s approach is never so simple or straightforward. Duality has always been a central preoccupation for him, and his works explore the ways in which multiple identities and perspectives – whether sexual, ethnic, national, or even generational – can coexist within the individual.
With Sitayana, these tensions come to the fore, as each drawing reveals different permutations of masculinity and femininity, activity and passivity, tenderness and violence. His drawings do not present traditional images of conflict between these supposed binarisms, but rather they work to undermine the fixed quality of these very notions. Although often monumental in scale, his figures are never monolithic, but instead are multifaceted and complex, an uneasy mix of many divergent perspectives – in short, distinctly contemporary.
Also in 2010 he presented a solo exhibition SGD of new works at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute following his residency there. In 2011, he participated in a two-person exhibition, TransFigured, at the Private Museum in Singapore as well as another group show.
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