Between The past and the future

I had the opportunity to speak at my graduation from art school for being awarded the valedictorian. I don’t get a certificate or any prize, but for the opportunity to speak. Now normally, things like this wouldn’t be included to an artists’ portfolio of works, except in my case, this speech was intentionally part of a “where are you going? where have you been?” series of works that I had been working on and was presenting simultaneously at around the same time.

  • Between the lines (2018) which was exhibited at the NAFA gallery

  • Where are we going? Where have we been? (2018) a community engaged installation at the NAFA foyer that was also an extension to It’s not about the Boat and part of the NAFA 80th anniversary series

  • Notions #3 that got stuck. :(

The opportunity to speak and get a message across to fellow artists and also their parents or loved ones and even the faculty that was present, was particularly precious and important to me. This is especially since I had given a lot of thought to coming and leaving the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) in my other works. There’s a saying, that “a school is like a safe harbour” and another, that about how while boats are safe in the harbour, boats aren’t built for the harbour and are meant to go away. These were all the more apt since Nanyang meants the southern oceans. At the time of giving this speech, I was already a student of a MA programme at another Nanyang institution, but this time, Nanyang Technological University. What does it mean for me to move from a Southern ocean to a Southern ocean? or rather, from a harbour to a harbour?

As I am writing this, one year later, NAFA is having another convocation for the next batch of graduands. My friend who is there at this moment, recalls my speech last year of my “youthful ideals”. I went to pull it up and ponder. I think I should put it up to remind myself of its content. I had put in as much thought in writing and rewriting it as I do for my other works. And it could all be read in the context of things. Especially since I’m also in the midst of doing my in(ter)dependant studies initiative now…as an independent student, am I sailing about in the open ocean now?

6 Sept 2019

A graduating student’s Speech: ceremony D

President of NAFA, Mr Chia Mia Chiang, <pause> distinguished guests, <pause> Ladies & Gentlemen.


Good morning, I am Lee Ju-Lyn, one of the graduates of the Diploma in Fine Art programme.


I am honoured to have been invited to stand before you today, representing the Class of 2018.




It seems like only yesterday that we first came to the school.


To be honest, back then, I did not imagine that this course would be so… challenging.


You see, at that time I already had a degree in psychology from a local university, and I had a few years of professional working experience, so I thought, hey this is Fine Art, something I love, so how difficult can it be?


Well, apparently, very difficult okay? I have been truly humbled. By the programme requirements, by my esteemed lecturers, and also by my coursemates.


Ladies and gentlemen, since I hold your attention captive for a few minutes today, I hope to share what I have learnt about making fine art.


That making fine art is physically and mentally and emotionally demanding.

It requires skills that take dedicated practice and perseverance to hone.

It requires ideas and concepts that take relentless thinking and rethinking.

It requires feelings, passion that take emotional maturity to both hold back and let go.

In other words, fine art requires heart.


To me, this is the most important takeaway from the course. Learning how to use my heart.

I learnt how to put my heart into my works and even my proposals for my works.


And I know I am not alone in this.

If you came for the graduation exhibition you would also know.

Walking through the galleries, any one would be moved by the heart put into every work, if one would just feel or imagine the individual stories and struggles that went into creating each of them.


I wish I could name all the works and everybody [all the graduating artists] today, but time does not allow it,

so my point is this,

that our works, be they pieces of writing, drawing, ceramic, sculpture, painting, photography, video, print, performance art, or installation art, or any kind of art, we put our hearts into it.


Be they works about society, family, identity,

memory, anxiety, psychology, or materiality,

modernity, or post-modernity, we put our hearts into it.


Putting our hearts into our art, is the reason

we feel that uncomfortable excitement

when we present our works, because they are precious and dear to us.

That’s why we sometimes get hurt, angry, defensive, for we may get heart-broken. 


But putting our hearts into our art, is also the reason that we sometimes can feel happy, or feel that by our works we have helped to make the world a better place just by a little bit.

And when the audience, be it friend or stranger, looks and considers our works, that we can feel proud and fulfilled, that we have made an impression.


People usually remind us to be humble, and they are right and we should be grateful for we appreciate how humility is very very important and we must always remember that.


But people also remind us to be confident.

When someone appreciates our works and when someone encourages us. When we encourage each other.

So let us be confident.

Not confident as in arrogant or obnoxious, you know?

But confident that we can.

Because we can. We can make it happen.

We can do it.

And we know that we can do it, because we’ve done something haven’t we?

We have completed a very challenging and exciting course that has taught us how to take out our hearts and put into our works. And survive. To do this over and over again.


Regardless of where we have all come from?

And where we are going?


We are here together, today, right now,

We received the certification confirming that we know how to use our hearts, and use it well, and we shall be able to go forth to do so, with whatever it is that we want to do in the future.


So, congratulations to us, and let us give ourselves a round of applause.


<break for applause>


Alright! Now, it is time for me present to you a video showcasing our graduates of the various academic programmes and what they have to say of their time at NAFA.


<3-min video will be played>


Thank you to the Academy for preparing this heartwarming video. I am sure it has evoked many of our fond memories at NAFA. 


Finally, but most importantly and sincerely, on behalf of the Class of 2018, a big thank you our lecturers, our parents, family members, loved-ones, and those who have supported us all this while.


My fellow schoolmates, please let us all rise to give them a big round of applause.


[Lead the graduates to stand and clap].

Thank you and congratulations everyone!