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Are we being rebellious enough?

Updated: Jul 23

Written by Feature Artist Denise Jillian Tan


“Are we being rebellious enough?” is an exploration of the facets and tension of the individual human response to normative justice in their process of compromise.


We are all born into certain structures with different views of appropriate behaviour and thinking; a guideline as to what is just. It is natural at some point or other in our lives to question the necessity for such adherence. An ordinary phenomenon being the refusal of obedience or order is observed through all walks of life. From a child refusing his or her parents’ orders to organised protests against a governing body, the resulting outcome ranges in varying degrees and methods.


Is This Rebellious Enough?, Denise Jillian Tan, Oil on canvas,115 x 92 cm

Caught between the different behavioural and ethical expectations of roles that we adopt through life, the need to speculate the concept of these imposed forms of order sometimes becomes a necessity especially when we are able to compare our realities to others through the means of an immediate or indirect experience. It is then one may choose to rebel by resisting, refusing or eradicating their immediate links to specific forms of justice, despite the uncertainty of effectiveness or future consequences.

Rebellion is generally classified as a negative action, but depending on the nature of the normative justice practiced, it may be seen as positive and even beneficial to those participating. People rebel for several reasons stemming from the realisation that the normative justice that they are held to due to the lack of power to create change, is in fact unjust to their depiction of an ideal reality. It is due this difference in power that one has to consider a means of compromise as part of a strategy in order to achieve their desired reality.

Just as the sentence “Are we being rebellious enough?” is laced with assertiveness in terms of action and yet paired with insecurity in execution, it echoes the sadness of humankind in their feeble struggle between desire and survival to achieve aspects of an ideal society.

Drawing inspiration from Asian societies and its conservative culture despite its modernity, in “Are we being rebellious enough?” I take reference to real life situations of rebellion in its varying degrees while deconstructing and reinterpreting their contextual references as an emulation of the need for compromise while also portraying the despondency of the powerlessness of the individual.


My past works heavily consists of figures that act as puppets and serve me the artist as a means of formulating an overall experience. They are void of identity however and are an evolution from the amalgamation of what is real, material and objective. They, too, are born into their version of justice within a visible means of containment, which is the canvas. It is this mirroring of a fabricated societal experience stemmed from the engagement of reality that painting is able to provide that makes it apt as a means of juxtaposition for contemplation.


As a whole, the body of work “Are we being rebellious enough?” aims to serve as an aid for a means of instigation of thought between the audience and their respective realities. I believe it is important for individuals to be self aware in the choices they make and the possible benefits or consequences these choices entails. As said by Albert Camus, “Absolute freedom mocks at justice. Absolute justice denies freedom. To be fruitful, the two ideas must find their limits in each other.”

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All reproductions courtesy of the artist and Artesan Gallery & Studio
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