An exhibition of paintings by local unsung painter Huang Wei. A promise of a performance. The location was secret and revealed only in the letter that will be sent to your residential address three days before the performance date you signed up for.
Pretty exciting, huh?
I received my letter on time. Wrapped in old newspaper, I found a tag with my name on it with the location revealed on the reverse side. I also got an old-fashioned family portrait with a key attached. Receiving snail mail in a brown envelope with nice penmanship on brown paper really took me back to our country’s history. And for that brief moment, nostalgia came over me. It was a nice feeling, though fleeting.
I went down for my exhibition-performance visit last Sunday at the given location. It was a nice area – shophouses with a good mix of residential and commercial with relatively low traffic. It made me relax and open up my mind before entering the exhibition space, which was a small dark room with countless of staring portraits staring straight at you.
After the door shut behind me, I felt stuck in that moment. Like I was in a painting. Stuck in the same space with the same appearance and emotions for the rest of time. It was just the feeling of having nowhere to go and facing the same few walls all the time. I was probably only in that space for about ten minutes but it felt like hours. I could feel myself looking at corners and taking smaller steps. I was feeling anxious.
After, a hidden door behind a painting opened and a man stepped out. Explaining Huang Wei’s history and putting questions out there, he led us beyond the hidden door and showed other sights that gave me a better idea of what the artist was like – an interactive painting, standing in a crammed room with a child that was drawing, his studio space and lastly a room with his last few works.
The paintings were really powerful and I still have a few pieces of his work imprinted in my mind. All his works shared innocence and sadness. An emptiness felt by a child growing up during the war. Their eyes lacked shine and hope in the future, but none of them were mature enough to truly understand what was happening around them. Some of them lost an arm, but all of them lost their childhood and freedom.
Huang Wei allows his paint to bleed down the canvas on the parts that represent the bleak future – withering flowers, lost limbs or old playthings. It gave me a sense of lingering bitterness and incompleteness. I felt pain, but this pain hit me tenfold when I saw his last few works – various aspects of his life that were important to him painted and hysterically layered with black paint. Again and again and again.
It was as if they were too painful for him to look back fondly anymore and he decided to hide them. Bury them. Rid them. Just like what he did with a self-portrait.
A short journey but a fascinating and emotional one. How I wish to share a conversation with this artist.