With the twenty-year milestone of working in the arts industry coming up, I will bow out of the industry with a weary heart.

While I may not have made much of a visible impact within the community, I cherish the times spent with many friends and collaborators. I especially enjoyed working with artists and collectors. I also derived a lot of pleasure and stimulation within the academic field.

I initially made my mark in the arts field as a secondary school student – it was where I informally assisted in the arts elective programme at my school and participated in national activities (winning an award for painting too).

Throughout my growing years, I maintained a deep connection to the arts community because I grew up under the eyes and company of many artist friends whom I can call “uncles”, “aunties” and even by their names. The almost-familial closeness between senior artists or artists in my age bracket is an unprecedented insider perspective of the arts community.

The concepts and ideas behind their artworks, lively discussions, silent observations, perspectives of their lives and society, and even the myriad of gossip material within the community became part of me. My insight into their minds and art is perhaps simply inaccessible to third parties outside their relationship circles (as these third parties are still considered strangers or “not family”).

Undoubtedly, the artists I grew up under and with are predominantly Singaporean Chinese; my arts community circle is substantial and deep.

I was often told that I should work for the arts community and advocate for their voices because they were unable or unwilling to. I was often puzzled by their reliance. Was I some firebrand that would speak for them?

To perhaps set it straight, I left my budding well-paying IT retail management career for the arts because of one core reason – my father.

When my father sacrificed for and endured so much hardship to become a professional artist, I can only take up the mantle to support his dreams. The artist family network became part of my new career along the way. As I worked quietly behind the scenes, I got involved with other stakeholders within the arts community.

Eventually, I became a confidant of many such stakeholders from different perspectives and authorities. I provided an empathic listening ear and perhaps a black hole of conveniently forgotten information and grouses from the ground.

Be it artists, collectors, commercial entities and institutions, not once have I been asked whether their information or grouses would burden me.

When multiple stakeholders appear together at a function, I constantly recall the relationships between such stakeholders. Is this their first meeting? What are their backgrounds and personalities? Do they have some background with each other? Do I have to moderate the conversations?

Every function is like a delicate dance of probing and bantering influenced by the personalities of artists and other stakeholders. Even a conversation in a commercial setting is influenced by the deference to the commercial interests of such stakeholders.

My art career is a confluence of personalities, personal histories and stories.

I have often been told to act in the interests of the prevailing stakeholder (basically, whoever is talking to me). Never have folks considered me a stakeholder in the arts community.

What is my voice? What are my interests? What do I love about the arts? What do I want to do for the arts?

Most would only know me as the son of a prominent artist, as the guy who specialises in traditional, modern, contemporary and avant-garde ink arts (and a bit of Singapore art history), as the guy who seems to know a lot of senior artists but never did let on that he does, and now as the guy who does Chinese to English translations because of his familiarity with art-specific terms, lingo and Chinese cultural history[1].

I wish to state here that I love ink art in its various forms and from various cultures. The cultural histories linked to the ink arts are unique to me, and ink art has me learning something new daily.

I love how artists find their inspirations. Artists who spend time with me to chat about all sorts of things about art and history are always welcome. The potential to learn from each other is immense, and I cherish the time spent with them.

However, perhaps the entanglement of stakeholders within the arts community wore me out.

When I honestly think about it, I am not doing this for myself but others. First, it was for my father. Second, it was the artist community, and then it was for whatever stakeholders I was with.

My love for the arts became tainted with stress and worry.

I want to be able to love the arts and just the arts. I want to be able to speak my mind about the arts without stakeholders breathing down my neck or having to conform to certain expectations.

And frankly, being a natural-born worrier, I need to divorce from unnecessary stress and focus on the person and people who truly matter to me.

I intend to alter my life and do the things I love, and for the person I love.

Perhaps in time, I would write my thoughts about the ink arts as a book – without stakeholders breathing down my neck.

My deepest gratitude and thanks to everyone who has been with me throughout the decades.

I will stay for a little longer until my transition to another field of interest is complete.

I wish you all well.

[1] Check out the book Intersections, Innovations, Institutions, edited by Jeffrey Say and Seng Yu Jin, published by World Scientific. I have contributed to this book as the translator (Chinese to English) for texts making up one-third of the book.