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Encrypted with secrets is the gaze in Nguan’s images, yet we wish we’ll never find the key

The absence or presence of eye contact render Nguan's pictures as tableaus of tantalizing mystery

The absence or presence of eye contact render Nguan’s pictures as tableaus of tantalizing mystery

Political philosopher Noam Chomsky once said that silence is often more eloquent than loud clamour. “Singapore” (2011-13), a series of images by local photographer Nguan, bears testimony to that.

In one of the densest city states in Asia, bombarded by political rhetoric of re-invention and renewal, and where boundaries between public and private are rapidly disintegrating with technology, silence seems like anathema. A malady much feared, it carries with it the cold draught of loneliness and void that seems to multiply exponentially with material possessions we consume. Many a time, we describe an artwork in terms of whether it “speaks” to us, but Nguan’s pictures pose as open quotation marks awaiting conversations to fill the space.

The tranquility speaks volumes, as do the meticulous pacing of engagement and disengagement with the gazes of his subjects that underscores his dual position as story teller and audience at the same time. “I want to explore the darker undertones beneath the quiet hum of ordinary life. Singapore is a nation in flux, like a teenager with growing pains,” says the 39-year-old.  Cast in warm, gentle light, it seems as though his characters exist in a floating world abound with mystery. One where cruel tropical heat is absent, where destruction and annihilation of spaces look almost bucolic, and where even vice coyly makes peace with national identity with an innocent and nondescript exterior.

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