Singapore Art Museum’s latest exhibition explores the act of giving

Exchanges, relationships and influences in gift-giving is examined in these exhibitions by local and international artists.

Khalisa Zulkiflee

Creative writer and comedian on the side.

Published: 18 August 2021, 5:14 PM

Singapore Art Museum’s (SAM) newest exhibition, The Gift, seeks to explore how the act of gift-giving makes an ordinary object be a symbol of connection, a communal and civic duty to one another. 

This display will be at National Gallery Singapore’s The Ngee Ann Kongsi Concourse Gallery from Aug 20 to Nov 7. 

The Gift is one of four related exhibitions in a transnational project titled Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories initiated by the Goethe-Institut and features works from multiple collections, such as SAM and partner institutions Galerie Nasional Indonesia, MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, and Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

In a media release, the SAM said: “The act of gifting transforms an ordinary object into something much more meaningful and emotional; becoming an embodiment of a relationship, a social act, or even an obligation to another.”

The Gift invites visitors to take a deeper look into how the artworks and materials from different lands and cultures relate to one another through narratives, agencies and histories, giving rise to new perspectives. 

Artworks by local artists Salleh Japar, Tang Da Wu, Ho Tzu Nyen and Donna Ong are presented alongside notable international artists like Joseph Beuys, Bruce Nauman and Holly Zausner.


As a conceptual multi-disciplinary artist, Salleh Japar’s work addresses anxieties of identity and society, Muslim values, and globalisation. PHOTO CREDIT: SINGAPORE ART MUSEUM


Salleh Japar’s Born out of Fire (1993) was created after he travelled to Australia and was inspired by universal symbols familiar throughout cultures and belief systems, yet seem unique when read within the context of one’s everyday life. 

Tang Da Wu’s Monument for Seub Nakhasathien (1991) shows support for Thai conservationist Seub Nakhasathien and his social cause. It is a continuation of Tang’s examination of issues of environment and ecology. 

With Donna Ong’s The Caretaker (2008), The Gift probes the nature of exchanges – of their gesture, value, expectations and reciprocation – and how the status and interpretation of exchange may also change over time. 


The Caretaker comes from a little-known time in the history of 20th century Japanese-American diplomatic relations. PHOTO CREDIT: SINGAPORE ART MUSEUM


Ong’s work pays tribute to the Friendship Doll Project of 1927 where there was an exchange of dolls between Japan and the United States to symbolise goodwill and their close relationship.

These dolls were destroyed during World War II when tensions between the two escalated. The Caretaker returns to this historical moment with a scene of a caretaker watching over the memory of the dolls and watching their amicable reunion.

“Through the concept of the gift, the exhibition examines the tangible and intangible between and around objects, artworks and histories, as well as how these are entangled. 

With The Gift, and more broadly, Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories, we hope to bring these new perspectives on ideas of exchange and influences to our audiences,” says Dr June Yap, Director of Curatorial, Collections and Programmes at SAM and curator of The Gift.

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