Have you ever wondered what stories trash could tell? The places they have been to and the things they have done. Art R’eev explores these stories and more in his exhibition titled The Story of Trash, which is showing in Kamal Arts Gallery from 6-13 February 2022. This exhibition is part of the ATAS Arts Resource programme, sponsored by the National Arts Council to provide artists a space to experiment and showcase their artistic practice. We sat down for an interview with Art R’eev (Mohamad Ariff, b. 1969 in Singapore) to hear more about what he has to say.
Q: To start off, could you tell us more about how you started creating your art?
A: I started by painting plastic containers, you know those botol kuih (cookie jar) from Hari Raya celebrations? My siblings will bring over these botols and they just accumulated over time. So rather than just leaving it, I decided to paint one and that’s how it started.
Once I started making more things, I also started selling these items at a flea market in my neighbourhood. That was when I realised that there is a demand for these items and this kind of art.
Q: How would you describe your art style?
A: I would describe it as sustainable art, that is eco-friendly and utilises found objects and upcycling. Upcycling is different from recycling. Recycling involves the destruction of waste in order to create something new, whereas upcycling takes waste and creates something new from it in its current state.
This kind of art… it’s actually more established in other parts of the world like the US and the UK. So I hope through my art I can create awareness about the current situation of the environment, and the importance of saving the Earth by reducing the waste we generate.
I’m actually a self-taught artist. I learnt from the internet, YouTube and social media. I also studied other artists’ work, and through that I learned bit by bit. Not just about art techniques but also about the terminology used in art, as well as how to write about my pieces for exhibitions.
Slowly I learned, and started branching out to painting on different things such as t-shirts and shoes. I held my first solo exhibition at Art Outreach Singapore in October 2020, and that was a good experience. I still have a lot to learn as an artist.
Q: What is your process like?
A: First I collect materials from my family, friends and the community. I draw inspiration from everyday life and things that surround me. I also have a few artists that inspire me, such as Pes Chamo from Italy, and Jackson Pollock, the abstract artist.
Completing artworks can take from 3 to 4 hours for a simple piece but more complicated pieces can take up to a month to finish. If I don’t feel inspired, or if I get a mental block then I cannot work.
I find the process therapeutic however, it is a healing process. I think having a calm mind is important, as it affects the body and thereby affects how I create. So I try to listen to calming music and relax myself.
You see, being an artist is difficult… You must stick to your own principles and believe in what you are doing. You also have to be daring and keep trying new things.
I think of abstract art as an expression of the inner soul. When you encounter abstract art, sometimes you need to think about what it could mean, what it makes you feel. So I enjoy that challenge, and abstract art presents infinite possibilities.
Q: What do you hope people take away from your art?
I want to create awareness and encourage people to make sustainability a regular part of their lives. The important part is to practice it and keep doing it. It’s easy to come in and look at the art and read the message but it needs to be a regular effort.
We live in an ecosystem… so if we don’t try to save the Earth, it will circle back to us. For example when you throw plastic into the sea, fishes will consume it and we will catch those fish and eat it. Everything we do will affect the other living things on this planet. People fail to see this… I hope that through my art, I can open up more minds and people can be more informed of the world around them.
Besides the Earth’s ecosystem, there is also the art ecosystem. I feel like [the art ecosystem] in Singapore is still not receptive to provocative art, and even sustainable art… they still maintain a traditional view. This change of mindset will require collective effort from everyone, who wants to see the art scene in Singapore grow and develop. I hope people will support more of the smaller artists because it really helps.
Q: Do you have any plans and wishes for 2022?
Ideally I would like to have more solo exhibitions, but these require time. Time to conceptualise and create new artworks. It would be interesting to create digital works. This is something I’ve been considering, I’ve been looking at the works of artist Refik Anadol. I feel like people favour moving works over stagnant ones these days.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: I’ll be happy if people understand and appreciate the message I’m trying to convey: save the Earth.