The walls of Norah Lea’s exhibition, ‘In Love’, are painted millennial pink. Photographs are displayed on the walls, salon-style, in an assortment of frames donated by the artist’s friends. Fairy lights line the ceiling. A sizeable bed sits in the middle of the humble room. Located on the second floor of a housing block, Lea’s exhibition at Coda Culture, a new artist-run space in Singapore, could pass for any ordinary bedroom: a private, intimate space of dreaming and infatuation.
As its title clearly suggests, Lea’s exhibition captures moments from a romantic relationship. The artist began the eponymous body of work in 2017; at Coda Culture, she presents a selection of 53 photographic works (from a series of more than 200), letters and a video. However, the exhibition soon reveals that this ‘love’ is, in fact, a fiction. Lea’s ‘partner’ is a classmate from art school: the pair created personas, went on dates and wrote letters to each other both as their ‘real’ and fabricated characters. The line between reality and imagination blurs in both the production and reception of the work.
Authenticity and agency emerge as significant preoccupations in Lea’s practice. As a brown transgender woman, her deceptively simple act of self-documentation is significant. Lea takes control of her representation by consciously offering a spectrum of gendered embodiment in her self-portraits. In ways that recall theorist Gayle Salamon’s observation that ‘transition from one sex to another is not a singular event’ but rather a ‘constellation of acts’, Lea’s photographs embrace transgender’s kaleidoscopic array of identifications. In some, she ‘passes’ (as cisgender) and, at other instances, presents as gender non-conforming. In one photograph, she sits poised in lingerie, as her wig hangs in the background.
Read Wong Bing Hao’s review of Norah Lea’s “In Love” on Frieze.
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