Hubert Burda Media

Vicky Hwang on Sharks and Humanity

A new art exhibit throws the spotlight on one of the ocean’s most vulnerable species.

Hot on the heels of the new Atlas Bar, which enchants drink aficionados with its gin and champagne collections, iconic art deco-meets-Gotham City Parkview Square is making waves again — this time, less to do with after-work libations and much more to do with community activism.

Spearheaded by Prestige’s March cover personality Vicky Hwang, managing director for Parkview Group in Singapore, the newly renovated Parkview Square is opening Parkview Museum, a gallery founded on the belief that cultural institutions play a significant role in societal change.

Its first exhibition, On Sharks and Humanity, brings to light the importance of sharks in the marine ecosystem and advocates for a harmonious existence between humans and nature.

Originally presented in Monaco in 2014 before touring to Moscow and Beijing, where it opened to the Chinese public at the National Museum of China in August 2015, it is the exhibition’s first Southeast Asian stop. Conceived and curated by the family-run Parkview Arts Auction — founded by Hwang’s uncle, art collector George Wong, who is said to own the largest collection of works by Salvador Dalí outside Spain — it brings together over 20 works from artists around the world as well as a selection of works from Singapore.

The family’s commitment to shark advocacy began in the 1990s when Hwang’s elder brother Leo began scuba diving as a teenager and learnt of the important role sharks play in the marine ecosystem. Soon the family, which owns a series of high-end residential, hotel and office developments globally, began to take action by phasing out shark fin soup at their restaurants.

Here, Hwang talks about the exhibition to be opened on March 9.

How can art effect societal change?

Art has a communicative quality which can cross language barriers. It can raise people’s awareness and at the same time address their emotions. It educates and enlightens minds; brings people together and encourages them to change society. Ultimately, art can analyse an issue from many different angles and prompt different reactions from individuals, while still advocating for a common, global goal.

Curator, Huang Du describes On Sharks and Humanity as an exhibition which comes close to Social Sculpture, the concept advocated for by Joseph Beuys. Simply put, Social Sculpture centres on the idea that art can be used to shape society. A social sculptor is an artist, who creates structures in society using language, thought, action, and objects. This is the vein which runs throughout our current exhibition. Some of the works show the beauty and grace of sharks, in an attempt to awaken the viewer’s sense of aesthetic appreciation, while others show the barbarity of shark slaughter in an effort to stir the public’s sympathy. All have the common goal of promoting activism on the behalf of sharks.

Is there a particular reason why Parkview opted to open the museum with this exhibition?

We decided to open with On Sharks and Humanity as it is an exhibition that is able to speak to everyone, with a message that’s relevant to one and all. The exhibition allows us to involve the public and to benefit the whole community by spreading the message for a more sustainable lifestyle through art.

How were the pieces chosen?

Most of the pieces were commissioned specifically for the exhibition taking into account three main factors: The topic of the exhibition (the relationship between humans and sharks and, by extension, between human and nature), the goal of the exhibition (conveying the message of the importance of stopping the practice of finning and generate action for protecting sharks in order to protect the entire ecosystem) and the physical spaces of the exhibition. For this reason, in each location, there are few pieces uniquely conceived for that specific context that cannot be exhibited anywhere else.

What it is interesting is that every piece sheds light on a different aspect of the exhibition topic. Some of the works show the beauty and grace of sharks, in an attempt to awaken the viewer’s sense of aesthetic appreciation, while others show the barbarity of shark slaughter in an effort to stir the public’s sympathy. All have the common goal of promoting activism on the behalf of sharks.

For example, Na Wei’s Shark Being Squeezed, created by emptying tubes of paint onto a canvas, shows the intense pressure sharks are under as their habitat becomes restricted (squeezed) and their numbers dwindle. Alternately, Zou Liang’s piece Swimming depicts a peaceful equilibrium between humanity and sharks, as children play upon the back of a Great White. Zou Liang’s shark is composed of various marine organisms, showing how it is an integral part of the ocean’s ecosystem.

Tell us a little about the Singaporean artists.

The exhibition will showcase existing works from three Singaporean artists that together form the same story line that runs through the exhibition. They are Robert Zhao Renhui, David Chan and filmmaker Royston Tan. As a global travelling exhibition, we have always selected a few local artists with the aim of creating a more versatile and multifaceted artistic corpus and also to make the message more relevant to the local audience. It was very positive to see how enthusiastically the Singapore artists accepted to be part of the show giving their contribution for such an important cause.