For your reading pleasure.

Thought that this was a good poignant piece.  Perhaps I truly have been away for too long.  Perhaps its because I can identify with the writer.  Or maybe simply because in busy busy stressed Singapore, I have learnt to barricade my eyes, ears and heart. 

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FAMILY PORTRAITS

You may strike a thousand poses but nothing in life will mean more than the one of you in a family photo

By Ignatius Low

 

Every Sunday morning, I go back to my parents’ house in Paya Lebar for breakfast.

For me, it’s the one time each week to catch up with my family and, a few weeks ago, we were engaged in a most serious discussion.

My mum had reminded us that we were going to the photo studio later that evening to take a family photograph.

‘Better dress properly,’ she said, giving my dad a pointed look.

‘Aiyah, it’s only a photograph what,’ he started to protest.

My dad, you see, is not one to fuss about and dress for the occasion. He is the type who secretly revels in showing that he cannot be bothered.

But this was no ordinary family photograph. It would be displayed next to other similar family photographs of my entire extended family.

These photos are part of my sister’s art installation for the upcoming President’s Young Talents 2009 exhibition. She has been nominated for the national award, together with three other artists. I felt I had to step in.

‘Do you want the whole of Singapore to walk into the Singapore Art Museum, look at the picture and say: ‘Eek, that’s the artist’s dad?’ ‘

I don’t know if it was my warning or some sense of occasion that eventually kicked in, but my dad showed up for the photo shoot more smartly dressed than I had ever seen him.

He wore a trendy dark purple shirt with a silver tie. He had also combed his hair neatly and put on his best pair of spectacles. When the cameras finally started clicking, I couldn’t help but choke back tears.

It was a Yasmin Ahmad moment for me. Like many of the characters in the late Malaysian director’s commercials, we stood there just so happy to be together after all these years.

And unexpectedly so, perhaps, but still proud as ever to pose together as one family.

When I got home, it struck me that in this digital age, we take more photos than ever before. Yet we hardly ever take any of our family.

I, for example, have thousands of photos of myself with my friends and colleagues. We’ve struck all sorts of funny poses and captured memories of everything from breathtaking scenery to fancy restaurant food.

But I can clearly remember only two other occasions when my family and I went before the camera.

The last time was during my sister’s university graduation in London, and the time before that was my own university graduation.

This means that in the last 20 years, I have taken just three pictures with my family.

Does this also happen in other countries and with other cultures? A cursory look at the online photos of some of my foreign friends seems to suggest otherwise.

And, as you often see in television dramas such as Brothers And Sisters, many Western families seem to prominently display family photos in their homes as markers of the passage of time – even though their family ties may not necessarily be any stronger than ours.

I can think of two reasons why Singaporean families don’t do the same. The first has something to do with how unerringly practical we are. Many of us think we don’t have the time or the energy to be sentimental about something as mundane as our family.

The second reason has something to do with our country’s size. In most other countries, children leave home to work in the city or in another state.

They travel home only a couple of times a year for Christmas, Thanksgiving or New Year celebrations, so there is always a sense of occasion that calls for a family photo.

Whatever one’s misgivings, I’ve found that they disappear when you actually look at family photos and see how deeply poignant they can be.

I loved the photo that my family took that Sunday evening so much that I immediately put it up on Facebook for all my friends to see.

My parents look young even though they are both well into their 60s.

My mum is positively beaming in the photo and she has the aura of a woman who is genuinely happy about how her life turned out.

She worked in Tangs for many years where she picked up the finer points of selecting and selling silk and batik. In the photo, she is wearing one of the brightly coloured pieces from her own clothing label, which retails at OG.

My mum is the reason both my sister and I are in creative jobs. She’s fiery but kind-hearted in real life, and I inherited from her the daring to allow me to write a column like this, for an audience which she says will always appreciate you if you listen to what they want and speak sincerely from your heart.

My dad is smiling a lot more now that he is semi-retired and free from the worries of supporting the family. He was a para-legal in property conveyancing for most of his life.

From him, I inherited a conservatism that balances my mum’s creative spark. Because of him, I look before I leap and understand the benefits of moderation, both in work and in life.

But despite possessing what some might see as a serious, no-nonsense demeanour, my dad was also the author of some of my sweetest memories as a child – sitting with him and his guitar, singing country songs and driving in his Datsun to Queensway to eat and shop.

Finally, there is my sister Felicia, 33, who is four years younger than me but infinitely more mature.

We may possess the same sort of talents in life, but she has a singularity of purpose and a pureness of heart that takes her much further in life than I can ever hope to go. I am into public service but she is into social service. I aspire to be arty but she aspires to be an artist.

Because of this, she has broken new ground in many ways throughout her life. She studied A-level Art on her own because Catholic Junior College did not offer it as a subject. With the help of her secondary school art teachers, she not only scored an A but won a government scholarship to do an art degree in London’s Goldsmiths College.

As an artist, she has tried to fuse art with social work – working with prisons, hospitals and underprivileged or underperforming students.

Her body of work, which will be on display at 8Q@SAM as part of the President’s Young Talents award show, is so unique its genre doesn’t even have a proper name – it’s called New Genre Public Art.

She’s been nominated for many national awards but remains one of the simplest and most unpretentious people around. And she is still the one person in my life I am most proud of knowing.

It’s a simple picture – just the four of us, no kids who herald the future, no missing members that echo the past.

But it’s one that speaks volumes to me and will continue to do so for many years to come.

ignatius@sph.com.sg