Geraldine Lim and Kimberly Tan’s captivatingly strange pieces of art represent the anxieties and fears of young people.
In Singapore, being an artist remains a volatile path: people judge you based on what you do, and even say you’re non-essential to society.
But two young female artists, Geraldine Lim and Kimberly Tan (aka Ultraaviolets), still make art despite the odds. These artists express their struggles, anxieties, and the volatility of their journeys as young people and artists through their unique and even grotesque pieces as a way to exorcise their emotions.
I met Geraldine at the ground floor of the School of Art, Design, Media (ADM) at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
The 24-year-old was dressed in a white t-shirt and flowy pants, sitting next to a large carrier bag filled with her soft sculptures — abstract representations of organs, limbs, and imagined creatures. These sculptures evoke feelings of sadness, wonder, and curiosity with the metaphorical exploration of the psyche
I first saw her work at a guided tour in my art criticism class at the ADM gallery’s The Foot Beneath the Flower exhibition, which spotlighted camp and kitsch art from Southeast Asia. My classmates and I were intrinsically moved by her After the tunnel (2020) work: stuffed fabric sculptures of spectral limbs and organs, truly a grotesque sight.
“My work is about the alienation and isolation I feel,” the part-time art teacher said, “I find art to be an escape, my internal world, one that comforts me in my battles with anxiety and depression.
“These organs are an expulsion of my difficulties connecting with external reality. I can relate my body to something I’ve made rather than something which already exists.”
The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) graduate of LaSalle College of the Arts began drawing at the tender age of three. She remembers feeling constricted by the confines of art education in primary and secondary school, where she was initially discouraged from pursuing art.
Back then, learning art became less about expression and more about honing the right techniques.
“Even as an undergraduate I felt inferior to my classmates who excelled in traditional skills like painting. I initially felt the pressure to conform to what is seen as acceptable,” she said.
“To me, art is personal. It’s not about how others perceive my work, but a process of dealing with my mental health.”
The local art scene is oftentimes perceived as a small and exclusive community. However, Geraldine hopes to make it more inclusive for marginalised groups of people by creating pieces that discuss mental health issues.
She said: “In our practices and roles as artists, I believe that we can uplift one another and value each other equally, regardless of our differences.
“I’m looking to keep my momentum and create more sculptures and drawings. I hope to turn these drawings into a zine or a book to raise awareness on the importance of mental health.”
Kimberly, a full-time graphic designer who creates digital art, bears experiences that are similar to Geraldine’s.
She is known for her conceptual digital art with a grotesque twist, where the familiar meets the strange. Her work manifests social commentary in the form of cultural icons, animals, and sometimes even divine imagery.
I met her at a Japanese tea café, where she was decked in a sleek all-black outfit and surprised me with her warmth and friendliness.
“I believe that even banal things can be interesting. My art is based around the idea of taking different things out of context, ” she said.
“I guess you can call it surrealism. My art is inspired by everyday observations; I try to create images with meaning even if they seem boring or trivial at first.”
The 27-year-old illustrator, who makes art in her spare time, confesses that she also struggled with being unable to draw well despite being in design school. She felt that her sketches were “damn ugly”, but thrived when she began making vector art on Adobe Illustrator.
“I realised I was an artist when other people were labelling me as one, so I just decided to own it,” the Temasek Polytechnic Diploma in Communication Design graduate said.
“My inspirations from indie and art films and rock music turned into a visual vocabulary for me to create my own brand of art.”
While she has collaborated with big brands like Coach and Asics, she remembers hiding “bad” pieces of her art on Instagram. She felt that these works no longer represented her as an artist, as she now creates art from the heart. She advises young artists to not take their art too seriously, and instead create work that really resonate with themselves.
She said: “Bad art is art that is pretentious. I used to make pieces that are trendy so I could make sales in art markets; honestly, I’m not that proud of those illustrations. Now I take my time when creating illustrations.
“The best art is made when you don’t intend to make art.”
In spite of these challenges, Geraldine and Kimberly are proof that being an artist is a worthy undertaking in a world that glorifies science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
In their art we see a fluid, imaginative world that juxtaposes the rigid, systemic reality we live in. Their work might be a tad strange to some, but these women are determined to keep sharing a piece of their minds through art.
Kimberly said: “The local art scene is improving, as more people come to understand and appreciate art in different forms. It’s definitely not easy being an artist, but it is satisfying for me to create pieces that I really love.”
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