Stepping through the door, we immediately find ourselves surrounded by lush layers of leaves. A few parrots peer at us curiously, while a tiger and a leopard snuggle together on the far end. In the middle of it all, Donna Ong sits at her desk, carefully adding another layer onto the diorama that she’s working on. No, this is no forest – it's the local artist’s studio, the (faux) flora and fauna all part of her upcoming exhibition, My Forest has No Name.
In it, Ong uses tropical rainforests to illustrate the gap between reality and representation: specifically, how Westerners of the 18th and 19th century painted the tropics with such fancy and exoticism. The forests depicted in paintings and sketches from that era – which were often created by artists who had never stepped foot in these places – were as accurate as North Korean propaganda. Think ferocious beasts among banana and palm trees, with half-naked natives lending credence to the half-baked notion of the 'white man’s burden'.