Charmaine Koh


I am an artist and writer currently based in the Bay Area, pursuing an MFA in Fine Art and an MA in Visual & Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. My practice explores the construction of identity and belonging in the context of my home country, Singapore, both as I have experienced them in my own life, and in terms of broader cultural phenomena. In the studio, I abstract disparate personal and cultural references, amalgamating them into imaginary worlds in paint and fabric. In my writing, I examine the economy of imagery and ideas through which notions of identity and belonging emerge and fluctuate. My most recent preoccupations in this regard are twofold: the intersection of colonial legacies, global influences, and tropical realities in relationships to nature; and the implications of popular portrayals of Singaporean public housing for ideas of community, the everyday, and the nation.

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About Charmaine Koh’s Thesis Project


Charmaine Koh

Picture-Perfect: Revisualizing Public Housing in Singapore

Public housing does not typically evoke notions of beauty or character. Images of public housing taken amid the contemporary impulse to document everyday life seem trivial and mundane. Yet, in Singapore, such images fuel a popular romanticization of the country’s public housing estates, recasting them as trendy signifiers of Singaporean-ness where they were previously often dismissed as nondescript cultural voids.


I examine a mode of portraying Singapore’s public housing estates that has gained particular prominence—one that presents the facades of individual blocks as pleasing patterns and pastoral scenes, and curates select tokens of everyday life. It exemplifies the potential of shared everyday environments to generate collective identity, aided by digital technologies that democratize image production and circulation. However, it also forms a ready vehicle for nostalgia, consumer marketing, and national narratives, which risk producing fixed notions of Singaporean-ness and eliding other realities that do not fit the mold.

Watch Symposium Presentation