And Now They Know
My artistic practice centers on my lived experiences living as a gay man in conservative Singapore. My works, often dancing on the edge of the “taboo” and the “controversial”, is an attempt to understand and to situate my identity and my role in society through the photographic medium.
“and now they know” is the revelation of the part of me that even my family could only speculate upon. This personal work speaks of my sexual identity and my relationship with my lover of eight years in a way that I could never do so verbally - a manifestation of the desire to finally step into the light to embrace my true self. The work also seeks to challenge the dated heteronormative norms of conservative Singapore, using my experiences and inner struggles as a microcosm of the society.
Gay issues in Singapore often goes under the radar, as anti-homosexual laws in the form of the Penal Code Section 377A, which criminalizes consensual homosexual acts, remains in the law books of the conservative nation. Despite outcries and challenges of activists to abolish the law, the government chose, instead, to side with the “majority conservatives” and instead, verbally stated that they would not enforce the law. However, their verbal assurance can always be withdrawn and the code can always be exercised. Needless to say, gay rights are non-existent in Singapore. This led to much tension within the nation with regards to this issue.
This tension is what motivated me to pursue this personal project. Raised by Confucian values in a largely traditional family, I have always struggled to express my sexuality as I found difficulties trying to reconcile my identities as the eldest son and a same-sex lover. I grew up in a single parent family when my mother passed away during my early teens and responsibilities of caring for my younger siblings and playing role model fell onto me. In addition, the traditional expectations of the eldest son are also subconsciously and culturally enforced onto me – I have to get married to a woman and bear offsprings to carry the family name. At the same time, I am also romantically attached to my boyfriend of eight years. Despite my boyfriend’s weekly visits to my home for as long as we are together, my father refuses to acknowledge him. Perhaps due to the Confucian ideals of “avoiding confrontation”, my father and I had never discussed about my sexual orientation, and there is always an overhanging tension in the house whenever my boyfriend is around.
Through this project, I wish to express my sexual identity in a way that is accessible to my family members to put their speculations of my relationship with this “male friend” to rest. Culturally, as we do not speak or express our emotions verbally, I decided to use photography as my vehicle to “come out”. The work, though personal, reflects on the political and social issues of my country, in an attempt to demystify and humanize the “deviants” that the gay community in Singapore is so labeled.