If you were one of those who enjoyed Eric Khoo’s award winning Mee Pok Man, you’re gonna love what the end of the year has in store for you.

Conceptualised by the director himself, the National Gallery has launched a new project, “Art Through Our Eyes“, collaborating with five different ASEAN filmmakers, all already well established in their own right.

We were invited to the media briefing last Thursday and managed to get some insight on the motivations and inner workings behind the project.

To start off, each of the five filmmakers, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand), Brillante Mendoza (Philippines), Ho Yuhang (Malaysia), Joko Anwar (Indonesia), and of course Eric Khoo (Singapore), handpicked a painting from from the Gallery’s Southeast Asian art collection as a starting point for the inspiration of their short films.

Each film will last five minutes long and all five films will be strung together, forming a 25-minute omnibus. What really excites us however, is the manner with which each director will interact with his chosen painting.

“One of the things we want to move away from is the perception that Southeast Asian art is typically written through national narratives” says  Ms Suenne Megan Tan (Director of Education and Programmes).

“We want to instead focus on the creative impulses of each and every one of these artworks and for them to be seen in the context that they were made.”

Eric Khoo, the only local filmmaker of the group picked Chua Mia Tee’s Portable Cinema (1977), which depicts a box mounted on a trishaw with holes installed on the sides for people to peep through and watch two-minute films.

Khoo, who was at the media briefing as well, spoke about meeting and talking to Mr Chua, revealing that his film will revolve around the painter himself.

“He loved to watch those little one-cent films. So when he was about five, six year old, he would go there, put the coin in, and crank it. The reels would last about two minutes in real time, but he cranked it really slowly to savour it so the two minute films were stretched to four minutes.” says Khoo.

“When i was creating the narrative, i couldn’t just leave it there, i had to explore the man behind the artwork . . . its really a tribute to the man himself.”

As for the four other directors, Mendoza selected Marketplace during the Occupation (1942) while Ho picked Aku (1958). Both Weerasethakul and Anwar were attracted to the works of Indonesian Raden Saleh, with Apitchapong selecting Merapi, Eruption By Day (1865) and Merapi, Eruption By Night (1865) and the latter choosing Wounded Lion (c. 1839).

The omnibus is slated to be released and premiered at the Gallery sometime at the end of the year.

We can’t wait to see first hand for ourselves each director’s interpretation of a Southeast Asian masterpiece: The art through their eyes.

Cover photo: Portable Cinema by Chua Mia Tee, courtesy of National Gallery Singapore
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