Flickering between the expression of dance and photography, artist Tan Nqiap Heng explores issues of physicality, identity and honesty in his works.
Parallel to his avidity for photography, Heng's time in university was infused with his love for dance. He later went on to spend a year at the London Contemporary Dance School. "It was the happiest year of my life, which ended in much sadness because I realised that my body was physically unable to endure a dance career," recalled Heng in a tone tinged with both gratitude and sadness.
As years passed working as an art's administrator and commercial photographer, the artist's true passion for photography was re-ignited by his love for dance, heartened and inspired by dancers of Singapore Dance Theatre and T.H.E. Dance.
“At first, my aim was dance photography. I was in love with a classical idea about the beauty of dance and I wanted to express this beauty in pictures,” acknowledged Heng as he discussed how each collection is pieced together. But with each photograph, Heng moved towards a profound level of identity as seen in his collections, ‘Portraits as Archaeology’ and ‘Portraits as History’. The personal emotions within “Fade…’ was inspired by his father’s early onset of dementia. “Photography has made clear to me the passage of time.”
With an insightful note on what photography meant to him, Heng profoundly noted: “So it has come to me that photography is not my goal, living is my goal. The photographs are byproducts of living.”
“I am drawn to the beauty of the human body. It is also a representation of our existence, our lives,” explained Heng, discussing the way in which he has explored themes through figurines, using the skin as a canvas to convey meaning. “It takes trust and integrity to pull off. My subjects need to trust me before they are willing to bear themselves. Seeing other humans nude has an air of honesty and vulnerability to it.”
Through the intricately thought combination of movement, projected images and striking use of light, Heng’s collection ‘Body of Work’ was created. Each piece intertwined under the concept of the human figure. “Being able to see the skin, something that is uncommon in our society, unclothed means that I am closer to the truth, the origin, the person I am collaborating with. But I am more interested in the body, what the skin covers, for somewhere seated in the body is a human,” said Heng.
Depths of emotion were addressed in 'Michael with Brother and Sister', Heng’s artwork. “To me, the most striking photograph is this one. The subject is a senior actor, Michael Tan. The sister in the picture on his chest passed away when he was young. So it was very special to me that someone from an older generation would bear himself for my camera and share such an intimate memory with me. And the result is beautiful to my eye. It once again is a testament to the passing of time, the fragility of life and the beauty of it all.”
“This collection firmly marks the departure of my photography as an aesthetic pursuit, to my present practice of using photography to explore intriguing questions,” concluded Heng, raising the philosophical concepts of life and death.