Desmond Mah (b. 1974, Singapore) is a Chinese-Australian, an early career contemporary painter, graduated from Loughborough University (UK) with a BA (Hons) in Painting (1998). He began his professional practice late (2016) after years of working in other industries. His previous paintings extend from olfactory to moving mechanisms, broadening the scope of painting and engaging patrons with sensory experiences. Having an ADHD diagnosis late in his life, painting is crucial to him than ever, resolving ideas and anxiety. His visual language, a line mark-making painting technique draws its inspiration from his memories of sewing, is his attempt of making ongoing self-repairs.
Mah’s Chinese identity is not obvious, his late grandfather is a Hainan Hui, spoke Chinese/Hainanese with Arabic phrases, chose to settle in colonial Singapore before WWII. Much of this cultural knowledge went with his early demise. Mah’s father left Singapore and settled in Perth (Boorloo, Nyoongah language). Although Australia is Mah’s home, his Australian identity remains illusive, feeling like a sojourner resides temporarily in a place. Facing constant racial slurs, bigotry posters and ‘slant-eyed’ gestures in his youth in Australia, he would cope by battling ‘monsters’ in video arcades. Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing tensions with Mainland China have led to the othering of the Chinese diaspora. Using his position as a migrant, his paintings oscillate between his evolving identity and globalising Western culture—articulating a shifting position of cultural identity, advocating an alternative space for transnationality.
Recently he has won the Southern Buoy Studios Portrait Prize (2021), been returning finalists in the Invitation Art Prize (2021, 2019), Incinerator Art Award (2021, 2020) and other sundry prizes while exhibiting in solo and group shows in Perth, Sydney and Beijing. He has participated in 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 has works commissioned by Diversity Arts Australia (NSW) and Screenwest (WA). Mah has a work in Judith Neilson’s private collection and is formerly represented by Simon Chan (Art Atrium, NSW). Currently, he is self-presented and works in Boorloo (Perth), Western Australia.
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