Desmond Mah was born in 1974 in Singapore and migrated to Australia (Boorloo/Perth, Western Australia) in 1987 as a youth. He graduated from Loughborough University (UK) with a BA (Hons) in Painting (1998). After graduation, he worked in high school education before emerging as an artist in 2016. He lives and works in Boorloo, on the unceded land of the Wadjak boodjar.
Recently he has won the E.SUN Bank Special Selection prize (2022, Taiwan), won the Southern Buoy Studios Portrait Prize (2021), been returning finalists in other art prizes while exhibiting in solo and group shows in Perth, Sydney and Beijing. He will be exhibiting at Edith Cowan University and Fremantle Arts Centre, and taking up residency with the latter in 2023. His previous residencies include the Red Gate Residency (Beijing, 2018), in which contemporary artist, He Yunchang (何云昌) mentored him. Mah is a recipient of various grants and work for commissions. Mah has a work in Judith Neilson’s private collection. He is currently self-represented.
Desmond Mah’s family heritage is complicated, his paternal grandfather is possibly linked to Hui ancestry (回族, Chinese Muslim, China) and his maternal grandfather has Kinmen ancestry (金門縣, Kinmen County/Islands, Taiwan). Their cultural identities morphed and evolved with time, as they traversed and negotiated in a host place (Singapore). Mah’s identity is an amalgamation of cultural hybridities, not exclusive to any single origin, always feeling like a sojourner that resides temporarily in a place. The lived experiences of immigration have shaped his explorations around identity and marginalisation. As a member of a marginalised diasporic community in Australia, his works examine his identity views and globalising Western culture—challenge the determinist version of identity to advocate an alternative space for transnationality.
Dealing with recent diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), he took time to negotiate with this disorder. Now in his late forties, he channels his neurodivergent mind into his art practice, crafting a form that is somewhere between a hybrid painting and a pseudo sculpture out of paint marks and incorporating multiple elements e.g., smells, sounds, automata, mechanisms and Arduino. These parade his heightened awareness to sensory stimuli such as sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, which unveil the correlation between his visual language and the technological. Texts in addition, appear sporadically in these forms, comes from his hidden memories and thoughts, made available to conduct deliberate conversations.
A Kampong village dwelling,
Kampong Bahru, Singapore, 1970s.
Mah's childhood residence.
He Yunchang 何云昌 in his Beijing
studio (Dec 2018).
Judith Neilson, White Rabbit Gallery