Let’s Twist Again

Singaporean artist Kumari Nahappan’s red hot chilli sculpture sets our feet tapping

Issue: Oct 2014

Kumari’s The Twist is an eye-catcher at the entrance plaza of CapitaLand Singapore’s residential project The Interlace
Kumari’s The Twist is an eye-catcher at the entrance plaza of CapitaLand Singapore’s residential project The Interlace

Come on everybody,
Clap your hands!
Now you're looking good!
I'm gonna sing my song and it won't take long.
We gotta do the twist and it goes like this …

When writing this article and gazing at the photo of Kumari Nahappan’s sculpture, Twist, these lyrics and the very catchy tune of Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again” came to mind. Now I must confess that up to a fortnight ago I did not know who Checker was – famous as he is as “King of the Twist”; nor did I know any of his hits – even though some of them hit the Billboard Hot 100, or won a Grammy Award. It was a kind colleague who emailed me an mp3 version of Let’s Twist Again after attending a talk I gave on this work of Kumari and those of other artists, that I was exposed to them. Then I knew what I had missed. More about that later.

For the moment let’s just focus on Kumari’s Twist – a bronze sculpture patinated with red and green pigment, an eye-catcher set against the white architecture of The Interlace. The chilli seems to defy gravity, standing on the tip of its somewhat conical and elongated body, supported only by a vine that extends from its top, coiling loosely around its body to reach the base.

A Twist to the Art

Have you ever seen a chilli that grows on a vine? I haven’t. And I don’t read it as a vine either. Rather, it is the twisting movement of the red hot chilli, and I cannot help but quote Checker’s lyrics again: “Yeah, round 'n around 'n up 'n down we go again”. This swirling and twisting are all part of the dance movement. But then, have you ever seen a chilli that dances?

The obvious answer puts this work of Kumari in the realm of fantasy, and it is very different from another work that she did for CapitaLand a few years ago, the Nutmeg and Mace at ION Orchard. We read the Nutmeg and Mace – nutmeg is the fruit and mace is the seed of the nutmeg tree, both spices – as much larger than life: the simple fruit slices open to reveal the intricate veins of the seed which looks magnificent when it is blown up to 3.5 metres high. But the chilli, similarly “upsized” to 5.1 metres, has another dimension. It is “animated”, and like a person, can dance and perhaps sing, too.

Nutmeg & Mace in front of ION Orchard hints at the history of the site - Orchard Road had nutmeg plantations before it becomes fashionable shopping district
Nutmeg & Mace in front of ION Orchard hints at the history of the site – Orchard Road had nutmeg plantations before it becomes fashionable shopping district

Indeed Twist does belong to Kumari’s famous “Song and Dance” series featuring singing and dancing chillies and peppers. In fact, one work from the series, the 6.6 metre tall Tango was awarded the Sculpture of the Year at the 15th edition of the Shanghai Art Fair 2011.

The Artist Who Loved to Twist

Born in Malaysia in 1953, Kumari is a Singaporean who lives and works in Singapore. She was educated in interior design in the UK in the 1970s, and then in fine arts in Singapore and Australia in the 1990s. Over the past two decades, her artistic journey has seen her develop an extensive body of works, including paintings, sculptures and installations, which has been exhibited in Asia, Europe and the United States.

I had the opportunity to have several good talks with the artist during the course of the making of this unique piece during our visits in Thailand and the installation of it on site. She comes across as a humble person and if there is any fire in her – as in her red hot chilli sculptures – it must be to do only with her passion in her art.

Twist in its full splendor amid the greeneries of The Interlace
Twist in its full splendor amid the greeneries of The Interlace

It was during one of these conversations that she shared with me why she wanted to depict the twist in this piece. She reminisced the days when she was a student and would meet the guys at tea dances which were, as the name suggests, held in the afternoon. The parents would think that their children were staying back in school diligently doing homework, but in fact they could be twisting away, having a hell of a good time. As she related this story I saw a youthful Kumari, as she has kept herself so well that none can tell she is a grandmother unless she reveals the fact.

I must say my teenage life pales beside Kumari’s. If I did not return home immediately after school, I would be diligently doing homework in school! My strict family upbringing also meant no other music genres for me other than classical. Thanks to Kumari’s Twist, I have “discovered” Chubby Checker and his Twist hits. And thanks to YouTube I could even see how the dance was performed in the good old days. Now I, too, can tap my feet and hum: “Yea, let's twist again, twistin' time is here!

This article is contributed by CapitaLand Chief of Art Management, Francis Wong Hooe Wai

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