Every year, The Singapore Women’s Weekly gives prominence to 18 distinguished and powerful women who are successful in their own right as part of the Great Women Of Our Time awards. Meet 2020’s Arts & Media Nominee, Alecia Neo, Founder of Brack and Unseen Art Initiative.
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Meet Alecia Neo – Great Women Of Our Time 2020 Arts & Media Nominee
For Alecia Neo, art is a window into issues like poverty, disability, marginalisation, and social inequality. As a visual artist, a lot of her work involves people. “Usually my starting point is working with people and the stories that I get when I meet them are the springboard for most of my projects that develop over time.”
Alecia is both the founder and artist lead of Brack, a trans-border arts platform for socially engaged artists, and the founder and director of Unseen Art Initiative, a non-profit arts company that aims to evoke and harness the creative potential of people through the arts.
Working primarily with photography, video, installation, and participatory workshops, Alecia’s artistic practice focuses on long-term projects involving a variety of individuals and collaborators, overlooked communities, and their spaces.
“Right now Brack is part of Substation’s associate artist programme from 2020 to 2021. Our research right now is focused on acts of gathering in times of disruption and conflict. We are also really interested in this concept of radical hospitality. What we mean by that is really how we practice hosting and being hospitable to people who might not be the most welcomed.”
In a time like Covid, Alecia believes that this theme is more pertinent than ever. With borders being affected, she and her collaborators see the importance of how we all relate to each other during these times. But their focus lies in the concept of radical hospitality, to understand the fundamental elements of mutual respect and equal status that underlie practices of hospitality and how communities draw boundaries and connect with outsiders.
Her other platform, Unseen Art Initiative, began as a youth-led mentorship programme where they paired young people who were visually impaired or completely blind with mentors of very similar interests. For example, if the student was really interested in music, they would be paired with a composer or a musician. “What we were really interested in is creating an accessible platform because at that time, and it still continues to be so, the school which I worked with has an inclusive programme for visually impaired students but the students are also exempted from certain subjects. Such as art. So unlike other students, they do not take art in school and I found it interesting as to why the system did not make space for students who have a visual impairment to also learn art.”
“Over time, the platform evolved to meet the different needs within the community and now we’re actually focused on supporting artists with disabilities who are interested in professionalising their work. Some of the students we initially worked with have been bitten by the art bug so they are actually now studying theatre, some of them have graduated and are also leading projects and that’s what the platform hopes to do. We invite them back to host workshops where they are actually the leaders of those workshops and we try to provide resources that we can, within our means to help them achieve their project goals.”
As a visual artist who views art as a platform to continue the conversation on social inequality, Alecia believes that whether it is caregiving, disability, or mental health, what these groups of people have in common is that they’ve been denied certain access to resources, knowledge, or opportunity to speak on their own terms in many fronts. This strong connection to systemic issues is what motivates her to conceptualise these projects that address the inequality at hand.
Having seen the fruitfulness in the conversations that Brack and Unseen Art Initiative has started, “I feel like, even though we are not impacting a huge group of people, there really is significance in planting these seeds. You never know what an encounter can mean for a person. So likewise, I think in both platforms – Brack and Unseen – what we hope to do is also through these exchanges and connections you never know the rippling effects that it can have. We want to encourage this kind of meaningful exchange.”
The Great Women Of Our Time Awards 2020 is brought to you by the presenter, Lancôme.