Learning > Inspiration

Art on a digital platter: Seniors appreciating and creating art amid Covid-19

The arts can bring cheer to seniors, a group especially vulnerable to Covid-19, when they may feel isolated at home. From the Silver Arts fest going digital to a near-centenarian putting up his first virtual show, Life takes a look at how seniors are appreciating and creating art in a time of the pandemic

Olivia Ho on 26 Aug 2020

The Straits Times


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Retiree Vivien Lee, 60, has been a volunteer with the Silver Arts festival for the past five years. Things are different this year, what with it having to go virtual due to the pandemic, but she is still excited to take part.


So far, she has gone on a trial run of Virtual Jalan Jalan, a digital tour of National Gallery Singapore led by artists Lee Sze-Chin and Moses Sia, and tried her hand at beatboxing in a workshop with veteran singer Rahimah Rahim and beatboxer Charles Stitch Wong.


"I've never attempted beatboxing before," says Ms Lee, who used to work in broadcast media. "It's something we always associate with youth, but hey, seniors can do it too. We just need a little more time to get it right."


The annual festival by the National Arts Council (NAC), now in its ninth edition, celebrates seniors and creative ageing.


It will run over two weeks from Sept 1 to 13 on the Silver Arts Facebook page, with 15 programmes - new ones released every day at 2pm - in English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and Chinese dialects. All of these can be enjoyed on-screen from home.


NAC senior director of engagement and participation Elaine Ng says in an e-mail interview: "From our observations and interactions with Silver Arts' senior volunteers, digitalisation may appear to be daunting at the start and a barrier to entry for participation.


"However, as seniors take the first step to begin their online arts journey and familiarise themselves with technology and new online platforms, many realise that there is a wide range of arts and culture activities and entertainment that is readily available and easy to access."


She adds: "With the pandemic, everyone, including seniors, has had to adapt. Many have learnt to be more digitally savvy out of necessity, to catch up with family members over video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom, or use QR codes for SafeEntry at public venues."


The NAC engaged 30 senior volunteers, including Ms Lee, as a test audience to make sure the upcoming programmes are user-friendly. It is also providing the beneficiaries of service association Lions Befrienders with access to past Silver Arts concerts on MP3 players.


Ms Ng says she hopes the digital festival will draw an attendance comparable to that of physical editions, which usually number about 45,000 participants.


This year's programmes include Keroncong Asmara by Wadah Seni Entertainment, a romantic performance of keroncong (traditional Malay orchestra); a homage to iconic singer Teresa Teng by Ding Yi Music Company; and Evergreen Symphonic Jukebox, a fusion concert by the Asian Cultural Symphony Orchestra.


Hokkien songs from the 1970s will feature in Toy Factory Productions' storytelling concert, Old Songs Of Redhill Market. Its chief artistic director Goh Boon Teck, 49, says in an e-mail interview: "As the music of our silver generation comes alive in our storytelling concert, we hope that these memories of their golden years will be passed down to people like you and me and also inspire all of us to bond more closely across generations."


Apart from Silver Arts, also ongoing now is Remember When at The Arts House, a monologue writing workshop for seniors. Though it is in its sixth edition, this is the first time it will be conducted online.


Over seven digital sessions, theatremaker Jeffrey Tan will lead participants in creating and blocking a dramatic monologue, which they will then perform at an eighth session filmed at The Arts House Play Den in October.


Tan, 48, says there were many technical challenges when introducing the seniors to Zoom in a trial run. "Sometimes, we can see them, but we can't hear them. Other times, we can hear them, but they can't see us. I can see their frustration. They really want to be involved, but technology is not their best friend."


But the participants rose gamely to the challenge, he adds.


Previous workshops have shown him that writing monologues based on their memories can help seniors discover things about themselves and one another, from a grandmother showing off a photo of her younger self in a swimming costume, to a couple in an arranged marriage hearing each other's perspectives.


"Suddenly, their life stories are given a window to be shared and that's always nice for them to hear," he says.




Artist Lim Tze Peng may be turning 99 next month, but he still has some firsts to look forward to - namely, having his first virtual exhibition.


A Century Of Memories will go online on his birthday, Sept 28. The exhibition by gallery Ode To Art will feature 20 of his new works.


It will be separated into three virtual galleries: one room for his earlier Singapore scenes, one for his recent works from late last year to the present, and a final one for birthday greeting videos from art collectors, who will also display 100 of his works that would otherwise not be available to the public.




"I am grateful to Ode To Art for giving me this opportunity to connect with people in a safe way from their homes," says Lim, a Cultural Medallion recipient, in an e-mail interview translated from Chinese.


Ahead of this, Ode To Art has put on another virtual exhibition by a veteran artist, Becoming And Being by Hong Zhu An.


The 65-year-old, who was born in Shanghai and has lived here for nearly 30 years, is known for his acrylic and ink paintings on Chinese rice paper. Becoming And Being features more than 40 new works.


The digital exhibitions include virtual tours with audio narratives and videos.


Lim, the oldest living member of Singapore's second-generation artists, continues to paint every day and remains highly prolific despite his advanced years.


The son of farmers, he has been painting since the 1950s, although he became a full-time artist only in 1981, after he retired as a school principal. His work is prized for the way it captures long-gone landscapes, such as the Singapore River before it was cleaned up by the Government in the 1970s and 1980s.


In the past, he would paint en plein air (outdoors), but as this has proven too taxing on his health, he now paints from memory.


During the circuit breaker, the father of six stayed home to protect his health and spend time with his family. He says: "Seeing Singapore stand together through troubled times reminded me of the olden days and led me to paint more scenes of Chinatown and the Singapore River from memory."


"I am very lucky to have the energy to paint every day. I have many ideas that I still want to develop in my art, so I think this is what drives me. I hope to paint everything that is in my mind's eye, and I may need another lifetime to do it all."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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