Jun 1, 2015

Maria Popova on our Age of Information, Media and Journalism

I find the convergence of the media and journalism, culture, information science, and psychology at the cultural malaises that our Information/Digital Age has given us — information overload, questions of privacy, and our restless generation's FOMO (Fear of Missing Out, in case you missed that) particularly interesting.

I approach this as someone of a product of my time, who extremely late to the game, joined Instagram only several months ago. I posted a status on Facebook announcing my Instagram debut:

I'm finally on Instagram! After all this time of people asking people asking me if I'm on Instagram, followed by an incredulous "What? Why not?" and "of all people you should be on Instagram!" My reply usually was, "it's just too much work".
Being the media omnivore that I am, I sometimes just felt media/information fatigue and didn't want to add yet another channel to that with expectations of a picture perfect instagramable life (hey, aren't there studies that show social media makes you depressed? FOMO and all).

More recently, I listened to an episode of On Being featuring Maria Popova, the creator and editor of BrainPickings. In her conversation with Krista Tippett of On Being, Popova sheds light on so many of our current afflictions through the wisdom she's gained in the close to a decade that she's turned to "old-fashioned reading" and writing for Brain Pickings. 

Tippett describes Popova's site, saying,

"We have all these assumptions we walk around with and lay them especially over the new generations, that there's no place for depth, that we can only take things in bite-sized pieces, that everything has to be entertaining. And yet, you present this discovery to people. That we want to know more about big ideas. We want our brains to be stretched. It's countercultural".

Popova replies, addressing our seemingly shortening attention spans:

"As a culture, you're right we seem somehow bored with thinking. We want to instantly know.
And there's this epidemic of listicles. Why think about what constitutes a great work of art when you can skim the 20 most expensive paintings in history? 

And I'm very guided by this desire to counter that in myself because I am, like everybody else, a product of my time and my culture. And I remember, there's a really beautiful commencement address that Adrienne Rich gave in 1977 in which she said that an education is not something that you get but something that you claim. And I think that's very much true of knowledge itself. The reason we're so increasingly intolerant of long articles and why we skim them, why we skip forward even in a short video that reduces a 300-page book into a three-minute animation — even in that we skip forward — is that we've been infected with this kind of pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge but not do the work of claiming it. I mean, the true material of knowledge is meaning. And the meaningful is the opposite of the trivial. And the only thing that we should have gleaned by skimming and skipping forward is really trivia. And the only way to glean knowledge is contemplation. And the road to that is time. There's nothing else. It's just time".
Popova on our 24-hour always on news cycle: 

"We've come to conflate journalism with news, and so much of that culture deals with what is urgent right now and not what is important in the grand scheme of things. And there is this sort of time bias, or presentism bias that happens.

In part, because of the way the Internet is structured. So if you think about anything from a Twitter feed to a facebook feed to a news website, the most recent floats to the top. And it's always in reverse chronology. And I think it's conditioning us to believe rather falsely that the most recent is the most important. And that the older matters less or just exists less to a point where we really have come to believe that things that are not on Google or on the news never happened, never existed, or don't matter. But I would say that 99 percent of the record of human thought is off the Internet and the history of humanity.

 It's a complicated question, and there are elements which I feel very strongly about, one of them is the commercialization of media. And so I think — the Internet — its beauty is that it's a self-perfecting organism, right? But as long as it's an ad-supported medium, the motive will be to perfect commercial interest, to perfect the art of the listicle, the endless slideshow, the infinitely paginated oracle, and not to perfect the human spirit of the reader or the writer.

And I think that journalism is moving further and further away from — you take something like E.B. White's ideal, which he said that the role of the writer is to lift people up, not to lower them down. And so much of what passes for journalism today lowers".

Tippett concurs, saying,

"Yeah. I think there's been this unfortunate convergence of the Internet and the 24/7 news cycle, and it's changed the effect, and I think this is a real challenge that journalism has to take up, it used to be possible to do some huge piece or expose on something shocking and horrible and that would mobilize people. But when people are bombarded by the shocking, and they actually start to internalize it as the norm, it actually shuts them down. 

You wrote something in the New York Times, and I just thought this is a great sentence, "a great story transcends the shock value to help the reader reconcile the cognitive dissonance of controversy and emerge closer to the truth, if only just a little bit".

Popova on how journalism should be:

“I mean, to me, there is so much goodness in the world. And of course, we just kind of have to show up for it and refuse to leave. Yes, people sometimes do horrible things. And we can speculate about why they do them until we run out of words and run out of sanity. But evil only prevails when we mistake it for the norm. And yet, the currency of news journalism is making it the norm".

And finally, Popova on how to thrive, both as individuals and a civilization:

"I think a lot about this relationship between cynicism and hope. Critical thinking without hope is cynicism, but hope without critical thinking is naïveté. And I try and live in this place in between the two, to try and build a life there because finding fault and feeling hopeless about improving our situation produces resignation, of which cynicism is a symptom and against which is a futile self-protection mechanism. 

But on the other hand, believing blindly that everything will work out just fine also produces a kind of resignation because we have no motive to apply ourselves to making things better. And I think in order to survive, both as individuals and as a civilization especially in order to thrive, we need to bridge critical thinking with hope".

Apr 14, 2015

Exhibition Pays Tribute to Pioneering Women in Colonial Singapore

The National Museum of Singapore is hosting a public exhibition that pays tribute to the women who paved the way for community service in colonial Singapore, from the mid 1800s till present-day. The exhibition, "Leading Ladies: Women Making a Difference", tells the stories of exceptional women who made a difference in their communities by setting up schools, medical services, advocating for social welfare, and fund-raising for those in need.

The exhibition features artefacts, photographs and furniture in two sections. The first explores the history, activities and contributions of the Chinese Women's Association (CWA), featuring everything from an elaborate teak sideboard of Anglo-European design, to beautiful cheongsams on loan from current CWA members. The second section explores the contributions of notable expatriate missionaries, from early proponents of girls education in Singapore to medical trailblazers.

This exhibition is held in conjunction with the Chinese Women's Association (CWA), the first and oldest women's association in Singapore.

Leading Ladies: Women Making a Difference is open to the public at the Stamford Gallery, National Museum of Singapore till 21 June 2015. Admission is free for all visitors.

Jan 30, 2015

Fear or Revere?

I recently wrote a piece on the historical and contemporary controversy surrounding female flesh and why it continues to be a point of contention for Escapade Magazine, an inter-university magazine based in Oxford. 

Read on for the full text below!


 From Helmut Newton’s ‘Sex and Landscapes’, to schools banning female students from wearing shorts or leggings because they would be “too distracting” to their male peers, the furor over Rihanna’s practically naked dress at the CFDA awards, and most recently, the leaked nude photos of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Uptonit’s obvious the female body holds a lot of power in society, both positive and negative.

So why does the female body hold so much power? And why are the reactions and emotions elicited such polarizing ones—shame at times, admiration at others?

Freud may be one of the most debunked social scientists of all time, but he shed light on this when he wrote, “Where such men love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love". Not because it’s impossible for love and sexual desire to go together, but because he elucidated a cultural malaise—the virgin/whore dichotomy—and introduced it into popular culture and discourse.

The virgin/whore dichotomy insisted women who chose not to marry and have children within the confines of marriage must remain sexually or symbolically virginal, or otherwise lose respect in society. A woman who expressed her sexuality outside those confines was a bad girl—a slut, a whore. You could either be the virginal, pretty, but not overtly sexual woman who makes for “girlfriend/wife material”, or an overtly sexual “slutty” woman. You just couldn’t be both. This dichotomy is still very present in society today. This is why there was outrage when Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos were leaked and nowhere near that scale of reaction when Miley Cyrus’ were.

The virgin/whore dichotomy points to an underlying deeper issue of male entitlement to female bodies. While we live in a world that (at least in most parts of the developed world) secures women’s basic rights, the patriarchal structures in society take time to dismantle, especially in our subconscious.

Since patriarchy is a social system where males are the main figures in power, the sad truth is that the default perspective in society is still that of a heteronormative male.

Great progress was made in the sixties and seventies. Our mothers’ generation benefited from educational and career opportunities denied to their predecessors. With the advent of reliable contraception, so came more choice. Choice over their sexual mores, their careers, the balance between career and family. They could also decide to have sex outside marriage and not be condemned for it. For the first time, women could progress alongside their male counterparts in education and their careers.

That’s not to say there wasn’t still prejudice; the “glass ceiling” still exists today and the success of books like ‘Lean In’ show that women are still struggling with the choices they make and fighting gender stereotypes. However the success of women in every field from academia to medicine to law to global business to politics shows that despite facing prejudice and bias they can and do excel in every arena.

The question remains: why does a woman’s sexuality so often shape how she is perceived?

Why is it, in 2014, after all the advances of the last century, when a woman is preparing for a job interview or an important presentation, she has to consider her appearance? She must not appear too feminine, too attractive or this might detract from her seriousness of purpose. Why is it that when commentators remark on an important woman, all too often they focus on her appearance – Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde, Michelle Obama – as well as on her agenda? How often does that happen for a man of similar status?

We start off with male as the norm, the default.

When the default way of seeing the world is a male one, visual culture corresponds to that by catering to the male gaze. John Berger, in his book ‘Ways of Seeing’ wrote, “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”.

The female body and its flesh hold power because men have awarded it power by sexualizing the body and objectifying it as an object for their consumption—shaming at times, coveting and admiring at others.

Some might say this means women have the real power, in using their sexuality to gain favours from men. But power where a woman uses her sexuality is not real power. That power simply means that, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie hilariously puts it in her TED talk, “ a woman simply has a good root to tap into, from time to time, somebody else’s power. And then of course, we have to wonder what happens when that somebody else is in a bad mood, or sick, or... impotent”.

What happens then, when a woman like Rihanna flaunts her sexuality openly? 

Sadly, we often shame them. As Adichie also brilliantly said, “We teach girls shame. Close your legs! Cover yourself! We make them feel as though by being born female they’re already guilty of something. And so girls grow up to be women who cannot see they have desire”.

Is revealing female flesh and openly celebrating women’s sexuality empowering in itself though, or is that simply playing into patriarchy and what men want from women?

I don’t believe the mere act of revealing female flesh is empowering in itself. Rather, awarding women autonomy over their own bodies and respecting their choices as adults is. Madonna and Britney Spears, both magnets for controversy, are good examples of the impact that having personal agency to their sexuality had.

When Madonna released her single Like A Virgin in 1984, P.H Davies writes, “the world sniggered with titillation, but again, the message was far subtler than many gave her credit for. Parading in a wedding dress in both the video and her notorious MTV performance, Madonna was underlining the hypocrisy inherent in her name – that women had to be either the virgin or the whore, never both”.

On the other hand, according to an exposé by Rolling Stone Magazine of the media storm and whirlwind (remember bald Britney?) that is Britney Spears’s life, tells us of a sexualisation not autonomous, but manufactured,  “Although the world thought Britney was an innocent sexed-up for the cameras, she was always lobbying to appear sluttier, which she thought would make her appear more mature.

Her managers didn't want to scare off her fan base. ‘These middle-aged guys were so intense about her not being sexual that they pushed her the other way,’ says the friend. ‘They'd tell her to put on a bra or that her lip gloss was too dark. They were literally picking out her panties for her’”.

Madonna challenged the juxtapositions that women worry about every day, and the notion that women can only be one thing, while Britney was manipulated into sexualized performance by her male managers. Not her vision of how she should be, but of their version and vision of sexuality for her, designed specifically for the male gaze.

In a truly gender-equal world, Rihanna would be able to wear whatever she wants to without having her intelligence, morals, or values questioned. If Rihanna wants to wear a nude Adam Selman dress, the problem isn’t merely the question of if she’s playing into patriarchy or self-objectification, but the policing of her sexuality, and the shaming and put-downs that come with it.

Sexuality is a wonderful thing and is to be celebrated, but people don’t see men’s sexuality as the first and defining feature about them in the same way they frequently first define a woman in terms of her sexuality. Society values men for their intrinsic qualities. It all too often takes longer to appreciate those in women. However, human beings are complex and multi-faceted. We are all much more than one thing.

The modern woman shouldn’t have to choose between being the virgin and the whore anymore.

Oct 28, 2014

GIUDI Celebates Opening of First Store in Asia

GIUDI, an Italian leather goods brand, celebrated its official opening of the first GIUDI store in Asia on 16 October at its newly designed space in Mandarin Gallery. Guests were treated to a fashion presentation hosted by MTV VJ Hanli Hoefer along with a spread of delicious canapés and free flow Prosecco.

“I am proud to open the first flagship store in Singapore. We have designs unique to Asia and every piece is handcrafted with love. Our products are made in Italy with only the finest leather,” said the 29-year-old CEO of GIUDI, Mr Eros Pennacchioni, who flew down from Italy to grace the event.

GIUDI aims to be an affordable luxury brand that defines both style and quality of Italian craftsmenship. The brand takes pride in ensuring that all leather used is tanned with natural, eco-friendly essences called Vacchetta, by an Italian Tannery located in Tuscany. All products are certified by the “Vera Pelle Italiana” consortium.

GIUDI - Mandarin Gallery Boutique is now open at 333A Orchard Road #02-21.

Diamonds are Forever at CHATEAUX

Earlier this month, jewelry brand WORLD OF DIAMONDS hosted an invite-only casino themed "Diamonds are Forever" party at boutique nightclub CHÂTEAUX. In true bond style, an Aston Martin was parked at the beginning of the red carpet, models were draped in over 38 million dollars worth of diamond jewelry, and guests were treated to champagne, vintage wines, premium organic caviar, as well as bespoke canapés and the signature cocktail of the night - the “Vesper Martini”.

Karan Tilani, Group Director of the WORLD OF DIAMONDS hosted the spectacular event, which was attended by some of Singapore’s most elite. His Excellency Luis Fernando de Andrade Serra, Ambassador of Brazil, His Excellency Thomas Kupfer, Ambassador of Switzerland, Dan Simion, Deputy High Commissioner of the Embassy of Romania, Dr Gianluca Rubagotti, Deputy High Commissioner of the Embassy of Italy and Commander Sean O’Connor, Attache’ to the Embassy of the United States, were all in attendance.

Sep 30, 2014

Watch the Hermès women's spring/summer 2015 Défilé livestream!

For the best seat in the house, go to hermes.com/defile on Wednesday, 1st October at 11.30pm Singapore time. Don't want to forget?

Log on now to sign up for a reminder 30 minutes before the show starts!

Instagram your photos and tweet all thoughts, feelings and expressions with #hermesfemme. 

Sep 18, 2014

So you Want to be a Gallerina?

Art History majors, graduates and aspiring gallerinas, listen upthis is an opportunity you can't miss!

The National Arts Council is giving Singaporeans the opportunity to be a part of an international contemporary art event at the 2015 Venice Biennale with their "56th Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition: Internship Programme (Singapore Pavilion)".

Established in 1895, the Venice Biennale is the most established international contemporary art event and widely regarded as the most significant.

As part of the internship programme, participants will undertake various duties including providing administrative and technical support at the Singapore Pavilion. They will assist in reception work and the general care and manning of the Singapore Pavilion among other responsibilities.

The internship will last for a period of 6.5 weeks in Venice. Accomodation will be provided for, along with a living stipend from the National Arts Council to subsidize living costs. However, airfare will not be covered as part of the internship.

For more details and to apply, click here.

Aug 14, 2014

Take a Break with Hermès's New Tie Break App

This August, Hermès celebrates Tie Break—a new app to help you take a break from the harsh realities of daily life at the office, airport or public transport. Or even during a dull date.

Expect arcade games transformed Hermès style, instructional videos on how to knot a tie, and best of all—try on ties from Hermès's new collection by just holding up your phone to your shirt. If you like what you see, you can buy it right there through their integrated online store!

Available on Apple or Android. Pull on the tie and let the games begin!

Jul 22, 2014

Ling Wu Fall/Winter 2014

Living in a highly-connected digital world where a million things are grabbing for our attention and engaging our senses at all times, there's something to be said about a pure, minimalist design aesthetic that doesn't have to scream for your attention—but instead quietly insists you do a double take, and draws you in by simply, the quality of its craftsmanship, the attention to its details.

That's exactly how I first came across Singaporean designer Ling Wu's bags at the (now closed) Blackmarket store in Somerset. The luxurious python skins that have now come to be a signature of Ling Wu's products first drew me in with how well-made they looked, then intrigued my tactile sense with how supple and rich to the touch the skins were.

For her Fall/Winter collection, Ling Wu introduces Svelte Python – produced using a rubberizing technique that gives the exotic skins a velvety soft touch.

Unique finishing to the skins is what makes a LING WU bag special. A time-consuming technique is the ‘bottle-rolling’ of the skins, where the skins are literally rolled with glass bottles by hand to produce a soft, shiny surface that still retains the beautifully organic texture of the scales. After the skins have been bottle-rolled a special glaze coating is applied to the surface to seal and protect the skins.

As much as the minimalism that has been popularized for maybe the last few years by Jil Sander, and of course, Celine, may be on its way out of fashion's mainstream consciousness, well-made products and quality craftsmanship will never be out. But instead, elevating your style as the quiet staples in your closet.

Ling Wu's Fall/Winter collection is available from September at Front Row, Isetan Scotts, TANGS Orchard, Robinsons Orchard, Doorstepluxury.com and W.E, or visit Ling Wu's studio and store at the National Design Center on 111 Middle Road from Monday - Friday, 11am-6pm.

Jul 21, 2014

Zalora Celebrates Singapore's National Day

What better way to display your patriotism this National Day than wearing Singapore's coloursred and white?

If you're lacking in inspiration, check out some of my favourite red/white street style looks below!

Style tip: Gold accents work well with red, so pile on the jewelery.

Now that you're feeling inspired, check our Zalora's National Day Deals and sign up for their newsletter to get a SGD $10 Zalora cash voucher!

Photo credits: Style.com, Refinery29.com, Parisx3.blogspot.com