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A Gathering of Women with Yang

A Gathering of Women is SAND Magazine's first International Women's Day series in collaboration with four creatives. We find out how each of us can step up to create and contribute to change, a very pertinent act in the world we live in today. 

We met up with Yang, a multidisciplinary artist who recently launched her installation, Family Portrait (2017) as part of an art group show at Kult Gallery in Singapore. A makeup artist and art director, Yang also embarks on photography, fashion styling and painting projects regularly. 
A Gathering of Women with Yang

by SAND Magazine

February 24, 2017

This year's Women's Day theme is #BeBoldForChange. What can any individual do to contribute to that?
I love that it’s about change. Change really is the only constant. I think it’s high time that we actually talk about it not just because of technology, Trump Presidency but also because I think it’s beautiful to look inwards and embrace change—something that’s very overlooked or banal, at least in this generation.

In life we can just ride with the flow but if we don’t recognise or aren’t aware of change, it’s very meaningless, isn’t it? Being bold about change is facing it straight on, sitting down at the table with your worst fears and highlighting the existing issues. I’ve read that uncertainty is the only, if not the greatest cause of anxiety. And I think people experience that with change as well.
I’ve always likened it to the growth of a plant—the stem pushes up, stretches and changes, and the process hurts the plant, yet it has to go through that. That’s real life.
You almost always work with female creatives, don’t you?
I just kind of went with it. In the beginning, my manager tried pushing me to work with more male models. I just never felt that inclination. There are some girls who grow up with a lot of guy friends; they’re just like that.
I’ve always been that girl who was always around other girls, whether in cliques or one on one. It’s a sisterhood thing—that comfortable community and friendship. It’s the beauty of coming together and having fun.
I’ve also realised, very recently in fact, that I’ve managed to put the people I shoot photos of in comfortable places. Because of that, we are able to draw out emotions that are real. There’s this thing about female gaze, which kind of stemmed from male gaze, which is a terrible term for objectifying women in photography and visual arts. I hated it so much in the past.
Fuck male gaze. If you want to put your male gaze on, go shoot buildings, shoes and other stuff. Don’t shoot photographs of people. It’s plain rude.
I love reflecting a person’s authenticity, which is also why I don’t prefer merely turning up at a shoot venue. It’s much nicer when there are coffee and nice conversations involved. I treat everyone I work with as a friend. It never crossed my mind to set up a situation intentionally.

It’s also about people coming together with the desire to make good art and knowing people put good faith in you when they say, as long as it’s Yang’s friend, I’m down for it.
Good work will come if you work with good people. It feels good to see female artists—be it photographers, musicians, writers, artists—rising up together and building a new wave.
What are your greatest joys of working alongside these women?
I always want to see each person as a friend and who they are as a person, even before I put on my role or persona as a photographer or stylist and determine who they should be in my eyes. Bringing out the true essence of that person will always take precedence over everything else. It’s about levelling up with regards to what that person has done before. In that process a new style comes about, and it’s nothing less than genuine and effortless. At the end of the day, I live for the audience of one. If someone is inspired by my art or explanation, that’s enough. My job is done and I’ll be able to move on to something else.

What is gender equality to you?
I have a huge sense of justice. It’s something I’ve realised since I was a kid. But movements and parades just aren’t my thing. I respect that there has to be platforms for voices to be heard and people leading it. It’s just not my jam, that’s all.
I think what’s best is subtly sliding habits and perspectives into life. When something is truly embedded to the point that people don’t immediately notice it, that becomes an effective form of change.
Why talk about people of colour when they are just all people? That’s just my way of touching the lives of the people in my immediate circle.

What consumes you?
The romanticism of life. I’m a true Cancerian. People always tell me that I’m watching too many movies. Well yeah, I do watch a lot of movies. Thank god for them. I don’t fancy unrealistic happy endings. That, to me, is not real life. True life is tragedy. Nothing happens by chance and everything happens for a reason. That’s the true romance of life to me. I read this quote that explained how empathy is the ability feel the entire universe on your shoulders and at the same time be able to sit at the table of the worst horrors of life.

It’s not about being in denial or naïve and seeing only the good. I realised that if I wanted to grow, I had to be more mature. That is in spite of the ugliness, I will still see beauty in the world and therefore be able to romanticise life and make conscious decisions.

I refuse to be hardened by the world. I want to be better, not bitter.
What is fear to you, and how do you overcome them?
I am my biggest fear, with huge amounts of doubt.

I love listening to podcasts and there was this one that questioned why we often say things to ourselves that we will never say to anyone else—This woman she goes on the date with this guy. He’s good looking and has it going with his career. In the middle of the date, he stands up and leaves. A friend whom she called up told her, “well, you’re so fat, you have a big ass and you’re a loser.

Except that this friend was none other than herself. And it’s true! These are things our friends would never say to us. Why do we then say such negative things to ourselves? Doubts are our biggest killer.
I tend to get very overwhelmed and handicapped by these thoughts… Though I hate it when people tell me I think too much. I tell them that they think too little.
Overcoming fear is about harnessing what we have, who we are, and bringing it down to this centeredness in us and taking that clarity into the world. I’d been through a year of being buoyant and feeling extremely volatile. But that’s just me, I’m the kind of a person whom you can’t say, don’t bother trying to.
I’m unstoppable because I don’t want to catch myself thinking, what would have happened if I actually tried it? I can’t live with what-ifs.
What's one thing people have to stop saying? 
Is depression not being shouted about enough? I feel like it’s being popularised and glamourised. It shouldn’t be romanticised that way.
And it’s the same for how we treat people of different gender. If you need me to get something done, tell me. Don’t feed me with statements like, “Go figure it out. You’re a girl.”
Of course there are gender differences. I get it that women are generally more sensitive and nurturing. Play on that. It shouldn’t be talked down. Come on, there are men who are emotional as much as there are women who feel fucking nothing at all.

What groundbreaking changes do you foresee in your life and spirit?
I want to be at The Met. I mean, dreams are free, right? I actually got this from my brother, who once popped a question to me—“If I were to give you the choice of fifty thousand, five hundred thousand and five million dollars, which one would you pick?

I thought for a while and replied, “maybe five hundred thousand?” He shot me down quickly, “It’s just a question and you don’t even dare to dream big.” 
From then on, I knew there was no point in trying so hard to be 'practical' about our ambitions. Dreams are free. Use them. 
When I was 18, I had to go through being homeless and having to move around all the time. My classmates used to joke about the fact that I was a vagabond and I would agree because, well, you have to go through life with humour and grace. So in my yearbook, when we had to fill in the blanks I wrote that I’m most likely to be everywhere, literally. But as I grew older, being everywhere meant travelling, taking my art and stories to places. It also means touching as many hearts as I can.

Back to changes in life, I’m looking for a studio. I’m hoping to toggle between Singapore and New York. Not to mention the fact that Trump is obstructing me. But yes, nothing makes me fall in love with a city the way New York and Los Angeles do. They only serve to overwhelm.

Finally, what's Women's Day to you?
It’s my best friend’s birthday. She left for New Zealand just last week, and will be there for a year. She wanted to work in a farm and I insisted on an avocado farm. We have been friends since we were nine… Such different individuals, but also so similar. I miss her dearly. I didn’t think I would feel sad but when she left, I felt a surge of emptiness. This is the part of my life where I can relate to The Shawshank Redemption,
“I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. Still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone. I guess I just miss my friend.”

Stay up to date with Yang here.


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