THIS URBAN ENIGMA

FEATURING AKAI CHEW

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IN OUR URBANIZED country, we easily overlook the construction of another HDB/office block, unaware of how it affects the way we view ourselves and our landscape.

ARCHITECTURE IS ALL AROUND US AND HAS SUCH A PROFOUND IMPACT ON OUR LIVES… IT IS THE IMAGERY OF THE CITY AND THE REFLECTION OF OUR CULTURE.

Influenced by his background in architecture, Akai Chew is currently a freelance photographer who effectively explores the relationship between the city (as an imposing organism) and its inhabitants. His abstract archi-scapes bring to light a hidden beauty and a contrasting melancholic uneasiness about the city in which we live in. 

What makes his photos stand out is his use of place and specifically architecture as a visual motif. His series, Bane of Urbanism (slideshow above) perfectly manages to intrigue and impose at the same time, juxtaposing the beauty of the Pearl Bank Apartments with an uneasy overwhelming sense of dystopia. His recent ongoing project, Alienation (slideshow below), depicts the cityscape with an air of solitude despite visible signs of life. Yet Akai manages to capture the almost unnatural sense of stasis, provoking an uncanny, ominous feeling of alienation. Akai sites Surrealist painter, Giorgio de Chirico as an inspiration for his work, especially his metaphysical paintings that evoke a brooding, bleak mood. 

He is also very sensitive to the relationship between history/memory and place, evident in the way he describes Singapore:

The cityscape of a city represents the history of the city and the story behind its development. For Singapore our built heritage does not have a very long history, but it still tells the story of how we came into being. The majority of Singapore was constructed in the 1960s onwards out of necessity. Since then much of the history of the suburbs had been forgotten, displaced with public housing estates. To me, public housing estates constitute what represents Singapore. They are mini cities, each a self-contained living environment.

I admire Akai’s talent and how he treats his craft with much discipline. He shared about his humble beginnings in photography being marked by months of experimentation and perfecting techniques. In our fast-paced society, it is easy to be caught up in the rat race and fail to observe what is around us. I’m glad for Akai’s photos that are a reminder to slow down and to reflect on this city we call home.

Akai continues to work hard to merge his various disciplines into his artistic practice, with a strong emphasis on place. His work has been showcased at the Noise Singapore showcase at 8Q (where he a 2013 Noise Singapore Apprentice), at a group show at the TCC Gallery and also at the Affordable Art Fair 2013, represented by Harper’s Bazaar Singapore. He is working towards a gallery show soon, so do keep your eyes peeled! 

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