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Profile: Donna Ong
A winner at this year’s Prudential Eye Awards, Donna Ong reveals how her love for installation art is rooted in her childhood.
BY PAMELA HO
“I grew up in a house filled with my father’s sculptures, prints and drawings,” says installation artist Donna Ong. “In retrospect, he was a big influence on me. Our garden had skulls with marbles for eyes that nestled sinisterly between the plants; my discarded toys would end up disembowelled and stuck onto rocks, sticks and other objects,” she recalls. “It was a really creative and exciting environment to grow up in, with lots to explore and discover.”
In fact, her dad — who studied art at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University and an artist himself — encouraged her to pursue art. Being the rebel, Ong decided to study architecture instead. In 1999, she graduated with an architecture degree from University College London.
“In architecture school, I was trained to look at the macro and micro, how to dream big, yet be highly practical. I was also taught to be bold and unafraid of scale,” she shares, adding that these lessons influenced her eventual installation practice.
During the holidays, Ong busied herself with art lessons and it was then she realised art was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She went on to graduate with an honours degree in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College, University of London (2003), and a Masters in Fine Art from LASALLE College of the Arts (2012).
Ong’s whimsical works have since been showcased locally and across Asia and Europe, in the most prestigious museums, art galleries and art fairs, including the Moscow Biennale (2007), Kwandu Biennale (2008) and Jakarta Biennale (2009). For her artistic achievements, she was awarded the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award in 2009.
At the Prudential Eye Awards in January, Ong was named Best Emerging Artist Using Installation. She was selected from among 500 artists, nominated by over 100 art experts from across Greater Asia.
The arty thirtysomething sets no limits on her ideas and chosen materials, having worked with furniture, found objects, even World War II dolls collected from markets and fairs. “I’m inspired by objects and ideas that make me stop and think. These compel me to create something in response, a kind of visual way to digest and dialogue what I’ve just encountered.”
In a poignant summary of her approach to art, Ong says, “I promised myself as a child, never to forget what it felt like to be a child — to dream and invest in the imaginary, the fantastic, the impossible. My work is about trying to keep that promise.”
Check out Ong’s installation art at the Prudential Singapore Eye exhibition, ArtScience Museum, on till 28 June.