“more cultural understanding and less conflict!
Interview | Jennifer Lim | Artist | Designer
an Australian-Peranakan artist based in Singapore. I studied Visual Art and Japanese at university, and lived in Japan for over eight years.I also trained in interior and building design. After working as a translator for many years, I’ve returned to my artistic roots and am now a full-time artist.
What inspired you to start creating art?
I’ve always felt the need to be creative – whether it be building mud-brick houses, sewing clothes or working as an interior designer! Art is a way for me to communicate my feelings about particular subject matters. Language, identity and cross-cultural issues are common themes in my work.
How would you describe your style?
Mostly abstract with an organic feel. I create contemporary and conceptual work, but I also have a soft spot for craft and design.
Favorite tools to create your work?
As a trained printmaker, I work mainly in etching, screen printing, linocut and Japanese woodblock. The natural environment and my health are important to me so I use mainly low-toxic materials and water-based inks. My set of carving tools are my favourite tools at the moment. Other tools include chocolate, cups of tea and great music!
What is your working environment / studio like?
I’m lucky to have a home studio – I also juggle a baby so it generally works out well. I try to surround myself with things that are meaningful and inspirational. Right now, I’m looking into local history and culture. On my walls, I put up newspaper clippings, images from other artists and postcards from places I have visited.
Much of my studio furniture is salvaged from the community recycle centre – my neighbours often look puzzled when they see me carrying back bits and pieces. In true Singapore style, the area where I live in currently being upgraded. The cross-cultural interaction between Bangladeshi labourers, mainland Chinese tilers and local residents is very interesting to watch!
What is your cultural background?
I’m very lucky to have parents from two different cultural backgrounds. It’s helped me gain a better insight into various countries. It hasn’t been easy at times to find my own identity though. Particularly in university, I used to be bothered by people telling me that I didn’t ‘look’ Chinese. Chinese people then used to expect me to speak Mandarin. People also sometimes find it confusing that I speak Japanese, even though I’m not from Japan.
Since moving to Singapore three years ago and doing some family research, I’ve realised that I have ties to many cultures. I have English, Irish and German ancestors on my Australian side, and Chinese and Peranakan descendants on my Singapore side.
In terms of identity / ethnicity / culture how would you describe yourself?
Ethnically, I’m Anglo-Australian/Hokkien Singapore Chinese and Chinese Peranakan. I speak and read fluent Japanese, and I’m learning Mandarin and Malay. In some respects, I suppose I’m very ‘Asian’ in my diet and some practices. I eat seaweed, kimchee and ikan bilis (dried anchovy). But I don’t like belachan – I have childhood memories of my father cooking up a storm with this pungent dried prawn paste! I’m not keen on durian either…But I do like milk and no sugar in my Earl Grey tea, thank you!
What aspects of your culture are most important to you?
Remembering the deceased, taking care of family and trying to contribute to society – but I’m not sure if these are aspects that are specific to one culture.
Has your cultural background influenced your life/ and or work – hobbies? And if it did could you give some examples?
Living in Japan as a high school student gave me an appreciation for Japanese textiles. My Japanese host mother and I used to go to antique markets and have fun digging around for kimono and obi. We’d unpick the fabric and remake it into Western style clothing. Fifteen years later, I did the same with my own mother when she lived in Nagoya for a while. I love rainy afternoons on temple market days – the best buys can be found then!
In what language do you dream?
English, but I used to dream in Japanese a lot when I lived there.
Probably when I was in kindergarten in Japan. We had a sumo wrestler come to the school to give a demonstration, and remember him swinging a couple of us kids on his arms!
Growing up you …
Enjoyed yumcha, the surf and digging around in the garden with my little brother in Sydney. My parents sent me to Chinese language classes on the weekends for a while but I couldn’t keep up with the Taiwanese kids in my class and lost interest. My dad took me to visit my relatives in Singapore every two years or so – and I can remember feeling shocked when I saw my first squat toilet! When I was young, we had a lot of Japanese antiques in our house and from an early age I remember leafing through books on ukiyoe prints and Chinese ceramics.
What most people don’t know about you is…
I can do a lot of DIY jobs including tiling and painting – I’ve project managed the renovation of several houses in Australia. I love getting my hands dirty and transforming a tired space into something fresh and welcoming. I also love to sew – tiling and making clothes are pretty much the same in my view. They both require finesse and the right tools!
Cannot live without?
Green matcha latte, a fountain pen my husband gave me, and my sketchbook.
What or who inspires you?
I get a lot of inspiration from nature, history and culture. My family have been very supportive of my art practice, and the recent illness of my father has inspired me to learn much more about his family history in Singapore.
Currently working on?
A new series of what I call printed ‘paper weavings’, and more Japanese woodblock prints.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Always take the next step.
What are you listening (music) to at the moment?
When I’m making art and really need to focus, I listen to a lot of Mozart, jazz and instrumental music. Otherwise I like Bic Runga, Crowded House and Missy Higgins.
If you ruled the world what would you do?
Invest in alternative energy sources, education, and funds for young people to go on overseas exchange programs. Maybe then we’d have more cultural understanding and less conflict!
Message to the world
Make (or enjoy) art, make peace!
Where can people find you? (Venues / Web / Social media)
Thank you for your time & energy
The Blend Within | Connected by Similarities