This is Me! is an annual zine publication by 3Pumpkins that showcases artwork produced freely by children in Tak Takut Kids Club (TTKC). For Volume 2 which features five young artists, 3Pumpkins’ Founder and Executive Director Lin Shiyun invited Rizman Putra, a multi-disciplinary artist, to take on the task of surveying selected portfolios and designing a unique zine layout. Besides the zine, Rizman also contributed a different artwork to TTKC back in April last year: a vibrant mural collaged from children’s drawings painted on the centre’s metal shutters that speaks to a TTKC community identity. In this dialogue, Amanda and Shiyun chat with Rizman to uncover the birth of This is Me! as a serialised publication and learn more about the creation processes in working with communities.
Rizman Putra and a child working on a mural for the centre’s metal shutters.
This is Me! Volume 2 cover pages
Amanda: Let’s begin with the name of the zine series which we’ll be discussing today: This is Me!. Shiyun, can you tell us more about the significance behind it
Shiyun: 3Pumpkins’ work is about creating connections: connections with the self and connection with others. In running TTKC, there are broad themes of “this is me” and “this is us”. While This is Us!—the name of our annual fundraiser—refers to how we exist together, we also need to acknowledge the individual, hence This is Me!.
The work of TTKC requires familiarising ourselves and working with the community. There is a lot of “this is us” which leaves no time for the individual. Creating the zine series is a way for us to focus on the individual. We create a space in TTKC where kids can freely obtain materials and do what they want. Take a pencil and paper and draw—such an instance is the quietest and most personal space one can have in TTKC’s multi-purpose art studio. The review of drawings and interviews that followed allowed us to hold space for quiet reflections for the children to listen to themselves and sense-make individually.
Amanda: This is Me! Volume 2 spotlights individual artist profiles while Volume 1 showcases anonymous artwork from a larger number of children and later grouped by themes. Shiyun, how was the curation for each zine issue decided upon?
Shiyun: The curation was not a decision made by me. The differences in how we present children’s drawings in Volumes 1 and 2 were not prescribed. Rather, each issue was the result of sensemaking of collected artworks with the intention of how to best represent the kids.
In the first year, what we collected were snippets. The children’s personalities were not very clear because we didn’t know them well and they didn’t know the space well. Hence how Volume 1 was put together was a result of the first year of such interaction with the space.
In the second year when we opened up the box (in which we deposit and store children’s drawings), we discovered that a few children were drawing a lot more than others. There were 5 artists we identified with a large volume of drawings and we could see that there is some thinking behind the art, so curating the zine around these 5 artists presented us with a good investigation of their individual creative process. It was a deeper exploration of individuality (“this is me”) which we were not able to do in the first year.
Vol 1 features broad themes
Vol 2 features artist profiles
Vol 1 is an anonymous party
Vol 2 focuses on the artist
Amanda: Speaking of the multi-purpose art studio, I’m curious to know from you, Rizman, what impressions do you have of the space?
Rizman: The space reminds me of my childhood, my bedroom where you have things all over the place. Pencils, colour paper…that was my bedroom when I was a kid.
Shiyun: Did you grow up alone? Did you play with others?
Rizman: I was mostly alone. I was the only child in my family who could ride a bicycle, but because my neighbourhood was dangerous my mum was very protective of us and didn’t allow me to go out much. There were cases of stabbing, killing… My mum didn't let us hang out with other neighbourhood kids so most of the time I spent imagining on my own.
TTKC reminds me of childhood. It is a space where children are free, and free to create their own worlds. The concept of worldbuilding is very important to me when it comes to artmaking. It is something that I have practised since I was a kid, when you start to create without yourself knowing.
These children’s worlds are sacred and special, the world could be their neighbourhood, their friends. Imagination is a powerful tool. When I step into TTKC, it reminds me of me in my bedroom, it’s very special.
Rizman’s studio space when he was a student in LASALLE back in 1999. Photo courtesy of Rizman Putra.
Children sitting around the tables and drawing using their own preferred medium in the multi-purpose art studio.
Shiyun: We sat in the art studio to review all the artists’ drawings. How was that process for you?
Rizman: Overwhelming. There were many drawings, so my approach was to ask “What is most unique about the artist?” and look for unique differences and something in the artwork that makes it different from others.
Amanda: Were any drawings particularly memorable for you?
Rizman: Yes, Ruda’s drawings. His drawings have many things happening yet there is something mysterious about them. There is always a narrative but you won’t really know what it is. Something about his drawings makes you want to try to decode them, they make you curious about what he thinks when he draws. Another memorable one is Aisyah's drawings. Her unique marks are the precision of time and place annotated on her drawings, disjointed ideas, and playlists of songs that she listens to when she draws. These are things that capture Aisyah’s personality as an artist.
There are similarities between the drawings of Aisyah and Ruda as compared to the rest. What is drawn may not be obvious at first glance and you may be pulled in to spend a lot of time deciphering and reading the drawings.
Drawing by Ruda
Drawing by Aisyah
Shiyun: Rizman, I’m curious what your designing process was like?
Rizman: For this zine issue, the background research I drew on was all those independent gigs I saw in the past. They inspired a punk and independent approach I took for the visual aesthetics. Everything looks chaotic and raw yet there is some inherent structure to it.
Shiyun: If other designers did it, I imagine they might extract elements from the artists’ drawings and place them in an aesthetically pleasing manner, make it nice, but you chose to do this [gestures to the sticky tape design in the zine].Was it also inspired by the way the art studio is? The washi tape graphics are reminiscent of that space.
Rizman: Yeah, definitely! Chaotic energy surrounding something that is organic, vibrant and alive. Same goes for the mural (metal shutters artwork) actually. My approach was not Sesame Street-style niceness but about beautiful scrawls—youthful yet not sleek.
Amanda: Besides independent and punk gigs, were there other things that inspired your design?
Rizman: I researched intensively on colour psychology for a project a few years ago, so I applied that knowledge to the mural and some other works I was doing. How you combine colours can influence the viewer’s feelings. For this zine, I wanted a colour palette that generates a sense of positive feelings.
For the mural, I was inspired by the album art of Tom Tom Club (released 1981) which is colourful and of childlike drawings. Many murals strive to look polished and flawless, but beyond perfection, I think there is a better way to capture the spirit of space at TTKC which is also befitting of the spirit of Boon Lay. It hit me when we were painting and there were residents simply walking past. One of them was a man who approached me in the morning and was sober, but by evening he was a different kind of person. Colourful characters like him inspire me a lot. This Boon Lay neighbourhood has similar vibes to my neighbourhood in Bukit Merah in the past. The characters are scary-looking but they are harmless and a fabric of the neighbourhood.
Album art of 'Tom Tom Club' (1981),
A resident pausing in front of the mural in the evening as Bud and Rizman continued working on it, with tools on a tarp sheet laid along the corridor.
Amanda: Were there any difficulties you had while designing the zine?
Rizman: Trying to figure out the artist interviews and finding a narrative within each artist’s drawings was the most difficult part. For instance, a conversation about LGBTQ+ issues surfaces in Cindy’s interview. I acknowledged that with a subtle play on the pride flag using coloured tape graphics rather than put out something loud.
For Nicholas’ pages, the focus was on the layout of his drawings. The rectangle and smaller square depict a toy box, and there are many of these toy boxes. I keep imagining the figures of Nicholas’ drawings as three-dimensional. The next step for Nicholas would be to do a 3D printing of those figures.
Shiyun: Was there anything surprising you discovered about those children featured in the zine?
Rizman: They are highly talented and we should celebrate them. I see Sulaiman as a prodigy, based on my observations, his drawing skills are better than the standard of some art school students.
We need to make sure they don’t lose interest in their art but we can’t force them. We need to make this process as natural as can be for them, because at their age you can get sick of drawing.
Shiyun: Were you a child prodigy at that age?
Rizman: I was a nuisance, very noisy and messed things up, not so much a prodigy.
Shiyun: I really resonate with the struggle to support these kids’ interest but not kill it. When I interviewed Sulaiman, I asked him about his thoughts on art school. One of his replies was: “Teacher Lin, why do I have to choose so early? Can I choose when I’m 17 years old?”.
What do we do with these children? When we discover talents in our engagement, how do we keep the child motivated, even at times when they don’t want to be? Because the work (at TTKC) is child-centered, when the child tells us their genuine thoughts, what do we do with seeming dilemmas? What do you think about this conundrum?
Rizman: Based on my experience teaching in SOTA, one strategy to consider is putting Sulaiman’s works side by side with those of people who are 10 years older than him. This sort of comparison might make him see the relatively outstanding quality in his work more clearly and he might realise: “Hey, I can do better than these people,'' and be motivated. His competencies are already art student level. What are his other interests?
Shiyun: He plays floorball, likes to dance and sing, and likes helping out in our Community Kitchen too. Another quote from Sulaiman from the interview is: “I want to try something I haven’t tried before”.
Rizman: Sounds like he is very curious and wants to try many things. He is like me, I like to try many things but I get bored when I do something for a prolonged period.
Sulaiman's very first drawing created in TTKC: a live sketch of Uncle Farez, dated 2019.
A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, dated September 2022.
Amanda: When you were here with Bud to paint the shutters, we observed that the kids were also curious and observing you guys. I’m curious about your work process then and how both of you interacted with the kids?
Rizman: When Bud and I worked on the mural, it’s about the plan of action. What we want to achieve for the hours, when to outline, when to colour in. We were very focus-driven. We interacted with the kids when they approached us, like showing them the projector and letting them colour in empty spaces. One of them painted the 3Pumpkins logo! But other than that, once they knew that we were super focused on the job, they would not trespass.
Shiyun: You’ve worked together with us on two projects now. Your working relationship with 3Pumpkins is very interesting and different from other artists who have collaborated with us. There is a certain distance you bring between you and the kids. For instance,This is Me! Volume 2 was designed without actual interactions with the kids.
Rizman: This way of working allowed me to look at the drawings alone and try to understand how they were created. When I regard a visual work, I think deeply into how the artist started doing it, what was their process like? That’s how I put the zine together. An analogy is: when in a gallery you may not know the exhibiting artist, but when you are attracted to one of their artworks, your relationship with the artwork is special because there is a connection without prior knowledge of the artist.
Shiyun: Yes, I think the distance you have with them helps with the eye on design. You can look purely at the drawings and spend significant energy reading into them, piecing them together. But for us, since we know a lot more about these children and their lives, it can be difficult for us to look at their drawings anew.
Amanda: Rizman, you have surveyed a sizable sample of children’s drawings produced in TTKC for both the zine and mural. Can you tell us more about your personal relationship with the medium of drawing?
Rizman: For me, drawing is a form of meditation. It begins as a meditation then becomes an obsession. The moment you do one, you need to do five more, and you only stop when you have to do other things in life. You can keep me in a room and I can draw non-stop for days. Drawing is self-healing in a way.
Amanda: If you have an opportunity to create something with the children of TTKC, what kind of project would that be?
Rizman: I create characters for theatre using drawings. When I think of characters, I would draw them to imagine their body language and their various states of being. So, if I were to create something with the kids, I would draw characters with the kids and from those drawings we can create short stories.
Amanda: And the short stories could become a performance! The kids have been actively experimenting with our newly furbished wardrobe department. Some of them simply like to try on outfits whereas some like to perform different personas when dressed differently. Nicholas has also been exploring what worldbuilding means in his own artistic universe.
Shiyun: I imagine what if Rizman is at Getai (a weekly open-mic community routine at TTKC)...
Rizman: Wah… I will bring my world in.
Shiyun: Yes, worldbuilding is important. There are some artists who come in, look at the kids and start thinking about how to support these kids in ways that require a lot of understanding about them. But with you and Jimmy Ong, you both bring a strong sense of your personal world into the space, and the kids become fascinated. This is a space where different worlds are brought in, collide, and they’re all accepted.
Rizman: I think an important thing is we should give these kids attention and appreciate whatever world they bring to us, layan* them. That’s what Farez does very well.
*layan is a Malay colloquial expression meaning “to respond to someone”
Farez, a creative facilitator at TTKC, performing with a child during Getai.
'Alunan Siapa' (Whose Melody), a performance by NADA for ‘Concert for the Haunted’ at National Gallery Singapore, 2022. Rizman (in white) is one half of NADA, a visual arts/sound project. Photo courtesy of Rizman Putra.
Shiyun: Yes, speak their language. If in your childhood there was a TTKC, would you be there?
Rizman: Ehhh, I would join one, definitely. It was very accidental how I started performing. After I perform I don't want to see people, I release my energy on stage and go home to sleep afterwards. I think I would enjoy myself a lot in TTKC.
TTKC is a space where the kids are really free to express their own feelings and explore. We have no idea the kinds of adults these kids may grow into: visual artist chef, performing chef, these sorts of multi-faceted wild mix of people, you know?
TTKC is a free-for-all, do-what-you-want haven that I really hope is not only located in Boon Lay. What if TTKC could branch out to other neighbourhoods with similar vibes? Are you planning on it?
Shiyun: I’m trying to find the DNA for it. I get a lot of inspiration from Substation, the old Substation, just that this is a “Substation” for kids.All we want is a safe space for kids to create their own worlds, in a neighbourhood like this.
This article was first published on 3Pumpkins' website.