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Gift Series: Hortus Conclusus: Gift #19 | 2013

30.25 x 30.5 x 33.5cm
Chinese antique reproduction jewelry box, paper (cut-out reproductions of illustrations of Western flora and fauna), acrylic and light-box
Art Stage Singapore (Jan 2014), Singapore

This series of works tries to imagine and recreate the gifts colonial traders and explorers sent home to their family and friends. These 18th and 19th century men and women saw things in their travels that they must have found hard to communicate to their colleagues, friends and family living in an entirely different culture and climate. The little dioramas inside these gift boxes attempt to depict sights, memories and feelings of homesickness and loneliness, these travellers must have experienced and felt. In this series, the scenes are made mainly from illustrations cut out from the reproductions of antique scientific illustrations of flora and images of women from art history reproductions. They create a tiny Western garden within which, a tiny woman resides resplendent amongst the flowers.

The work is a series of ornamental boxes of various sizes and shapes. Open the boxes, and nestled within their wooden cavities lie wondrous miniature worlds – landscapes of palm trees and dark figures, overgrown gardens with “exotic” animals peeking through fronds, trees with strange birds perched amongst riotous coloured fruits and flowers…

The scenes are made mainly from illustrations cut out from the reproductions of William Farquhar’s collection of South East Asian flora and fauna. Asian artists were asked to mimic Western artists’ botanical illustrations that they did to carrying degrees of success. The work alludes to the hidden histories of these colonials who visited and exploited the rich lands of the east and reflects that literally by hiding tiny “exotic” worlds with their ambiguous narratives within lavishly decorated boxes.