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Everyday people

Published: 
Sunday, August 3, 2014
LEFT: Selling Fish on the Roadside by Reah Lee Sing. RIGHT: Music in His Hand by Leah Lee Sing. PHOTOS: Medulla Art Gallery

Marsha Pearce reviews Reah Lee Sing’s show In This Room

In a world where people often judge a book by its cover, where a number of societies are characterised by racial profiling, ethnic hatred and xenophobia, Reah Lee Sing’s exhibition of oil paintings asks viewers to delve into the chapters of the lives of everyday men, woman and children. Her show entitled In This Room, which recently opened at Medulla Art Gallery, is her first public display of her work.  Roughly three years ago, Lee Sing, who is the wife of former mayor of Port-of-Spain Louis Lee Sing, left her 20-year advertising career to paint full-time. She enters the field of painting with little formal training. She studied art at St Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando, and Pleasantville Senior Comprehensive. She also completed one year of a visual arts bachelor’s degree at the UWI St Augustine campus.

Lee Sing’s pieces depict images of people she has seen on her travels around the globe: Spain, New Orleans, St Lucia, China, Israel, Uruguay and Peru. A visit to her exhibition offers an opportunity to engage in people watching—the act of observing and guessing a person’s story. Although Lee Sing provides a price list with useful paragraphs that give details about her encounters with and musings about the subjects of her paintings, a viewer may find greater pleasure in looking at the works and imagining for herself the narratives, the hopes, the trials and nature of the painted individuals.

Who is the seated man in the painting Reading about Submarines? Is he a father, a brother, an uncle? Is he a bibliophile? In some pieces, the subject is “unaware” of the viewer in the gallery but in others, the viewer’s and subject’s eyes meet. For example, in the painting Selling Fish on the Roadside, a little boy braces his merchandise with his hands and shoulder. His pleading eyes lock with those of the viewer. This is more than a potential moment for the buying and selling of fish. It is a trade of looks. Both subject and viewer become a product or commodity of each other’s gaze. In the piece Honey Skin, a woman with a scowl on her face challenges the viewer’s curious stare. Her expression makes it possible to anticipate her thoughts. 

She seems to ask, using T&T parlance: What is your story? 
It is question that can be translated as: What is wrong with you? Why are you looking at me? Yet, in another sense, it is a question that dares the viewer to disclose the details of his or her life. In the painting Music in His Hand, a young man listens to music via his mobile phone. Viewers in the gallery watch him but the boy also studies each viewer, seemingly setting him or her to his own soundtrack so that every visitor in the exhibition space unfolds like a cinematic script, each person a combination of moving image and sound, each person a walking storyline.
Lee Sing’s rendering of largely empty backgrounds in her paintings heightens the viewer’s capacity to concentrate on her presentations of various faces and expressions. She tunes out the particulars of the surroundings of her subjects and focuses on sharing not only physical features but also the spirit of the people. It is a strategy that encourages the viewer to think about the “background” that is not readily seen, in other words, the circumstances and history of each subject.

In a number of pieces she shows technical competence but paintings such as Peruvian Wealth, which gives a close-up of a woman, demonstrate that Lee Sing’s practice has room for growth with more attention needed in her description of musculature and the skeletal frame. There are visual instances in this exhibition that stir audiences to think about themselves but viewers can easily get lost in thoughts about others. The experience invites a deeper probing and understanding of not only the people in the room of the gallery but also those in the wider, shared room of the world we inhabit.

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