What's In My Portfolio: Jimmy Ong

Photography by Chino Sardea
03 May 2019

Mr. Jimmy Ong is a Singaporean visual artist based in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

This morning, when I was at Ng Eng Teng’s former house, I was reminded of the last time I saw him. He was probably in his 60s; he was growing old. It’s interesting for me to return to Singapore after years of living abroad. Growing old, getting sick perhaps, and then dying are things that I think about these days.

In Yogyakarta, where I am currently based, I find myself in a society that is very open; everybody knows everyone and I am part of the whole village, unlike in Vermont where I have lived for 30 years, where everybody was closed up and distanced from their neighbor. You have to make an appointment to borrow a cup of suger from your neighbor. In Singapore, although I’ve never lived in an HDB flat, everyone seems closed up in their cubicles. That is very interesting to me.

I decided to move back to Asia to be connected to people and no longer be isolated as an artist. I’ve had a privileged life, and I’ve been very lucky, but now things have turned for me, and I’m excited about it.

Before I left the US, I was supplying a lot of artworks that were pictorial, illustrative and accessible; they were drawings of the human figure. I have been selling those very well.

In Yogyakarta, I have made a move to do something else: I started to do videos that lead to community projects, and sculptures that involve local artisans who help fabricate a large part of my work. For the first time, I can see how my work involves another person’s livelihood, that if I stopped working, this person will go hungry the next day. It’s the big change that I experienced in the last five years.

A situation where I just do my exhibition and sell artworks through a gallery, the making of my artworks is far-removed from the selling of my works. This is an interesting situation for me to explore and think about as I ponder where home really is.