Visiting Scholar Lecture- Joan Kee on Ming Wong. Samuel Lane

Joan Kee Lecture

February 14, 2012

“Ming Wong’s Cultural Studies”

            Joan Kee, a University of Michigan art historian who is a specialist on postwar and contemporary Asian painting discussed Singaporean artist, Ming Wong’s work, emphasizing the importance of globalism and multiculturalism.  Ming Wong could be considered the Cindy Sherman of Asia, as he disguises himself, through elaborate dress as many humorous characters either fictional or real, man or woman.  Although, Sherman is most known for photographs and film stills, Ming Wong is notorious for his short films, many of them very comical and theatrical.  Perhaps Ming Wong’s most coveted showing was at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009, where he represented Singapore. “Playing with language, performance and identity, Ming revisited Singapore’s ‘Golden Age’ of cinema in the 50s and 60s, to re-imagine ‘national cinema’”(Kee).  Ming Wong created 3 multi-screen installations inspired by classics of world cinema, alongside collaborative artworks by Singapore’s last cinema billboard painter.  Ming Wong’s success has been persistent since his lasting impression at the Venice Biennale.

In many of Ming Wong’s films, he acts with other performers.  These performers undergo intensive rehearsals and workshops where Ming Wong trains them in choreography, imitation, and above all, theatricality.  In his 2010 video installation called, “Kontakthope,” Ming Wong trained 22 dancers comprising of artists and curators in Berlin.  “These members took part in a two day documented ‘Tanztheater’ workshop, where they practiced dance routines from Pina Bausch’s Kontakthof, which simple everyday gestures are choreographed to explore the relationships between men and women, individuals and groups, thereby mirroring the various dynamics amongst artists and curators who work together.(Wong)  This training workshop could be compared to Marina Abromovich’s infamous weeklong workshops where she trains young performers and artists to transcend into a very serious realm of artistic expression.  More than Ming Wong’s training; Abromovich’s workshops are extremely intensive in regards to psychological exercise and expression.  Of course, Ming Wong added his trademark signature to this piece by incorporating humorous and dated costumes for his performers to wear.

Ming Wong emphasizes culture through his campy and kitschy films that are overly sentimental and degraded.  Ming Wong emphasizes the importance of globalization and language by mimicking the titles of famous films, like his video installation called, “In Love for the Mood” based off the film produced in 2000 called, “In the Mood for Love.”  Ming Wong also mimics other artists’ work.  Ming Wong’s portrayal of Marina Abromovich’s “Art Must Be Beautiful” was humorously mimicked in his film titled, “Artists Must be Beautiful.”  Apart from language, Ming Wong focuses on race, captivating the importance of multicultural generations.  In his film “Whodunnit?” a murder mystery which highlights cultural differences, he casted an eclectic and culturally diverse cast.  The final cast comprises a diasporic spectrum of second or third generation British actors of Black African, Black Afro-Caribbean, Asian, East Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Greek Cypriot, Eastern European Jewish and Irish descent, who perform the dialogue using their own constructed versions of foreign accents as well as RP (Received Pronunciation).  In this 32-minute video installation, the identity of the murderer is not the question; the real mystery is, what is the true identity of the individual? At a time when ‘cultural diversity’ and ‘multiculturalism’ have become managerial catchwords, how does such ‘ticking-the-boxes’ categorization limit the way we identify others and ourselves in terms of ethnicity, race or culture?” (Wong)

Ming Wong’s cultural studies are represented in his short film installations.  His references to multiculturalism and globalization are far from subtle as he disguises himself as comedic characters, commentating on language and diversity in untraditional and theatrical settings.


Joan Kee, Lecture, “Ming Wong’s Cultural Studies”, Feb. 14. 2012

Ming Wong, Artist Information and Projects,

One Response

  1. I like how you began this paper by comparing the artist to Cindy Sherman, as this gave me a more solid idea of the works he creates. I am really curious to see a video of one of his performances as they sound humorous yet important.

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