One in 10 people in Singapore suffer from depression, but you'll be hard-pressed to find someone diagnosed with the mental health condition to tell you what it feels like. It isn't your typical sob story. It certainly doesn't look like your usual Debbie Downer. But once you walk through artist Yen Phang's installation at the Affordable Art Fair 2016, you might come out of it with a vague idea.

First hospitalised with depression while living in Australia, the 37-year-old Singaporean couldn't communicate what he felt to the doctors. Instead, he started to draw sketches to express himself when no one was sure what was going on. With this project curated by Saskia Joosse and presented by Pop and Contemporary Fine Art with Woodbridge Hospital's Institute of Mental Health (IMH), the artist aims to illustrate that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, but something to accept and build on.

Yen Phang

Titled 'The Ocean's Mind', Yen has orchestrated a hallway of sorts at a corner of the art fair. Utilising pieces of toilet rolls and branding them with Chinese ink, Yen was inspired by his first teacher, Dr. Chen Xiu Min who was the son of one of the forefathers of Chinese ink in Singapore, Chen Wen Hsi. Although he initially wanted to use Chinese scrolls to coincide with the ink, the artist found them too heavy for the installation.

While he loved to use the colour black, he also included other colours to reflect the constant changes one would face when living with depression. You're not sad all the time, and neither are you constantly angry too, hence the title. The ocean is a vast, dangerous and mystical being, but it can be navigated to a safe shore. While the saying has grown to be a cliché, the artist also shows a light at the end of the tunnel, literally. As you emerge from the overwhelming tangles of Yen's strewn paper, you're faced with the natural light streaming through the floor-to-ceiling panel.

Yen Phang

To complement the installation, the artist will be launching litographs titled 'Apprehension', 'Consolation', and 'Meditation'. The artist will also be participating in a talk about the effects of depression in the arts with Dr Ong Say How, the Deputy Chief of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry IMH.


If you've experienced depression or other forms of mental illness, 'The Ocean's Mind' might leave you crying. If you know someone who has, it provides a fitting summary. Either way, a bunch of inked toilet rolls has opened up a much-needed dialogue on this silent disease, and we applaud Yen for it.

The Affordable Art Fair Autumn Edition 2016 runs till 20 November at F1 Pit Building. For more details, click here.