Palette of history and strife

Indonesian contemporary artist Jim Allen Abel essays the late tycoon Oei Tiong Ham in a series of artworks inspired while he was incarcerated, writes CHEAH UI-HOON

Published Thu, Nov 28, 2013 · 10:00 PM
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HE was known as the sugar king of Java, but in Singapore, the name Oei Tiong Ham is more synonymous with expensive real estate. But in the hands of Indonesian contemporary artist Jim Allen Abel, the late Indonesian-Chinese tycoon's life gets a much more detailed re-telling.

Abel's latest series, The Mastodon Came In Through My Bathroom Window, connects Indonesia and Singapore through the tycoon, who was born in 1866 in Semarang and died in 1924 in Singapore. Using Oei as his platform, the artist uses the concept of "reconstruction and deconstruction" to address official history and fact in Indonesia.

"Almost all of my artworks are historical and research-based as I see myself as part of a wide society and a continuous history," explains the 38-year-old whose father is a history teacher. "It's interesting for me to play around with historical facts and see them with current/present context and perspective."

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