the life of vanda miss joaquim

a solo show

sept 6 - 21, 2018
Pushmi Pullyu
703 college st, toronto, canada








































Rasa sayang, hey!
Rasa sayang sayang, hey!
Hey, see that girl over there,
Rasa sayang sayang, hey!

The jackfruit is outside the fence,
Take a pole and gently knock it down;
I am new at this so
If I'm doing it wrong, please show me how.

Pandan Island is far from land,
Mount Daik has three peaks;
Though the body rots in the earth,
Good deeds are always remembered.

Two or three cats run around,
The striped one is superior;
I can easily find two or three girls,
But none can compare with you.

Brought gold bananas on a sailing trip,
One ripens on a chest;
Gold owed can be repaid,
But debts of gratitude are carried to the grave.


- Translated lyrics of ‘Rasa Sayang’, a folk song that is sung in Malaysia and Singapore


The Vanda Miss Joaquim is both the national flower of Singapore and a metaphor for Yan Wen Chang’s life experiences growing up in Singapore and Malaysia before moving to Toronto in 2011, where she currently resides. The artist employs images of flora indigenous to her home, a wholesome signifier of her origin, combined with contrasting personal and found texts. These texts are overlaid as a way of investigating her personal trauma and recovery through her attempts at defining her identity in a foreign country.

Chang’s paintings and the garden built outside the gallery feature plants native to Singapore and Malaysia, including the Venus Fly Trap, Pitcher Plant, Hibiscus (the national flower of Malaysia), and Orchid. She chose these plants based on her admiration for their resilience and yearlong blooming quality. Their natural environments are usually hard climates where few other plants can thrive.

Much of the plant imagery in this exhibition is from vintage postcards of Singapore and Malaysia. These specific depictions of the resilient plants are in contrast to the intimate messages written delicately in chalk. As a further contrasting dimension, she employs old newspaper images of the walls of Pudu Prison in Kuala Lumpur as well as pictures of Zarin Hussain, a man known as Malaysia’s ‘snake whisperer’ until he died from being bitten by a cobra.

Camouflage pattern of abstract, organic shapes is used to overlap and intersect text in Chang’s paintings. The original purpose of wearing camouflage is to blend into nature; here Chang uses camouflage to blur images and text together. This suite of paintings emphasizes the texture of flowers, animals and camouflage patterns, and by editing the images into high contrast black, white with a selective use of red, the paintings become dramatic, and visually intense.  Chang’s amalgamation of images, which make up the exhibition, serve as metaphors and reminders of fragility, escape, and freedom. She uses contradictions to reveal her cultural hybridity, piece by piece.  

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The Life of Vanda Miss Joaquim was generously supported by the Toronto Arts Council.  Chang would like to acknowledge and give special thanks to the following individuals: Omar Lalani and Stefan Hancherow for curatorial direction, Keillor MacLeod for installation assistance, and Felix Beaudry for special plant care assistance.


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