The cult of Kult

The cult of Kult
Bloom by Moon Malek. Photo: Kult

The cult of Kult

This gallery revels in being the underbelly of the Singapore arts scene

Steve Lawler was waving his hands wildly in the air, like a demented music maestro.

“We’re going to paint one long stripe right across the middle of the gallery and hang all the artwork in one line across the centre, kind of like a ‘dirty paint job’ theme,” he enthusiastically explained.

Earlier this month, the 36-year-old creative director and co-founder of Kult had given us an animated description of how the next exhibition at Kult will be set up. Titled Girls Of The Underworld, it features works by 33 Singapore-based female artists such as Adeline Tan, Dawn Ang and Esther Goh. Its opening night, which took place yesterday, involved free beer, music and a general party atmosphere.

“We know what it’s like to go to a party, so we make an effort to make this place look and feel different, eliminating the fatigue from the people who’ve been for every one of our shows,” Lawler had explained, to which his co-founder and marketing director Tanya Wilson joked: “We usually get about 400 people hanging around until we kick them out.”

You could say Kult exhibition openings aren’t your run-of-the-mill openings — but, then again, it wasn’t your usual art gallery in the first place.

Set up in 2007, it’s a creative agency, publisher and gallery rolled into one. In fact, you’re probably already familiar with its quarterly magazine featuring up-and-coming artists in the local scene as well as from overseas.

“Most of our work, whether commercial or not, revolves around arts and creativity, so all the different parts to our agency feed off one another. The commercial work we do funds our initiatives such as Kult magazine, which we distribute for free,” said Wilson.

Lawler describes Kult as the “underbelly of the Singapore arts scene”, adding that there are times when the public has had a tough time finding it at all — all the way up on Emily Hill.

“Once they finally find their way, they would really feel like they’ve stumbled upon some kind of underground treasure trove and start feeling really excited! Especially for tourists and outsiders, they would feel that Singapore’s really got something going on and not leave the country feeling like Singapore’s like Dubai, all boring and sh**,” said Lawler, himself an artist who goes by the moniker Mojoko.

Indeed, the small independent art gallery is anything but dull. Its quirky themes change radically with each exhibition.

“Before, our gallery was superhero-themed with Batman, Superman and Robin on the walls. We’ve even painted the gallery to look like a McDonald’s restaurant, with red and yellow stripes across. The artwork was also customised McDonald’s packaging,” said Lawler.

Girls Of The Underworld also echoes Kult’s search for what’s unusual, overlooked or at the cusp of something different.

“The idea was born mainly from our observation of a very interesting thing happening right now in contemporary art, illustration and street culture,” said Wilson. “It’s no longer artwork by girls for girls. Girls are putting out extremely fresh visuals that have broad appeal, accepted by both men and women, young and old.”

And there are a lot of them out there, too. Wilson noted that there’s an increasing number of young female artists. “It wasn’t always like that in Singapore, because parents didn’t see art as a viable career. Although they most probably are still worried, these girls are still pursuing what they love.”

Lawler credits the wave of female talent to the compulsory National Service in Singapore. “I mean, you take the boys out of the system for a while and drum in regimented thinking for them. On the other hand, girls are left free and open to explore their creativity, developing that into a career,” he said.

He pointed out his favourite piece in the show: A small, charming, soft pastel-hued piece by Esther Goh titled #OOTD. “I’m more drawn towards this due to its darker subject matter. It’s not just wallpaper, but rather about examining how these girls are thinking and how it feels to be a working female in contemporary Asia,” he said.

Goh, herself, is grateful for the presence of Kult. “It plans, curates and produces commercial projects that are bold and fresh so it can fund its more experimental and self-initiated works. I also like that it supports artists and illustrators by providing a platform to showcase and sell artworks, and is constantly promoting up-and-coming talents,” said the 25-year-old illustrator.

“I think once people realise that art isn’t some Monet on the wall and understand that it’s everything from their computer games to the things that they use regularly, they will start to appreciate their artistic qualities,” Lawler continued.

“We’re trying to focus on giving people access to relevant artwork that they actually like, instead of showing them what they don’t like.”

Whatever the case, it’s always a pleasant surprise to stumble upon an art space that adopts underground artists with strange perspectives and embraces its very quirks.

“Plus, there’s a little voodoo about our name, so that’s always fun,” Lawler deadpanned.

Girls Of The Underworld runs until June 28, 10am to 7pm, at Kult3D, Emily Hill Blk C2-5, 11 Upper Wilkie Road. Free admission. For more information, visit