Our “I Am Her” series features the female movers and shakers of the industry to learn how femininity and power coincide beautifully and seamlessly together.
Abigail Han embodies what every storyteller aspires to be: bold, enthusiastic, and able to inspire change and creativity through her ventures.
She was previously a programme curator for anything related to member experiences at 1880, a private members club where diverse minds gather to engage in inspiring conversations that change the world. One of the highlights of her career was planning a trip for the members to meet Dalai Lama.
When she was in Los Angeles, she created digital content and helped manage various artist programs and lectures for the J. Paul Getty Museum's Education Department. At present, she works for a multinational tech firm and embarks on personal passions in her art studio like writing, pottery, and more.
Below, our chat with Abigail on the beauty of pursuing art as a career, helping build brands and communities through artistic expression, representing the ‘least represented’ through her works, and more.
Fill in the blank (be as creative as you like): I am an artist, culture programme curator, and
What was your first artistic awakening? Do you remember the first piece of art or content that made you aspire to pursue art and make it into a career?
“My first artistic awakening was an assignment I completed for art class when I was in primary school. I remember putting a lot of effort into a mosaic of Barney the friendly dinosaur I made, by finding different shades of purple in magazines. It was my first memory of creativity at such a young age. I remember thinking I could do this for the rest of my life because of the happiness and joy it sparked in me. It was tedious but so rewarding. I treasure this nugget of memory because I’ve always pursued creativity despite being a triple science student and never taking another art class, after secondary two, until I went to college.
I credit my aspirations to pursue art to my grandfather who bought me my first Adobe Photoshop software and HTML coding book when I was 12 which was when I started to learn photo editing and coding my own blog. Also thankfully, my Asian parents never hindered me when I told them I wanted to be a film major in college.”
Between film, writing, pottery, cooking, and your many other interests and passions, which craft do you most identify with (if you can only pick one) and why?
“All these interests and passions are interconnected and feed into my imagination and creativity. They are interdependent in many ways. But if I had to pick and identify a theme that threads through my work, it would be community and hospitality. In all my work, I think about community and how an individual relates within the web of relationships they are a part of. And hospitality because I want all of my work to have a sense of generosity and warmth towards everyone who encounters it.”
How would you describe ‘cultural programming’ to someone unfamiliar with the term? How important is understanding someone’s roots, identity, inspirations, and aspirations in building a brand or forming an event dedicated to a certain theme or narrative?
“I think a good cultural curator weaves together threads and elements that make sense to tell a larger overarching story that benefits society and strengthens collective identity and community ties. Part of weaving together these threads is creating experiences and events for the public that help to convey a story or collective memory. I am always interested in the unique story behind a brand, or an individual, and finding creative ways to translate that story into relatable terms for others. Understanding an individual or a brand’s roots, identity, and aspirations provides opportunities to tell a stronger and more compelling story.”'
If someone were to create a cultural programme centred on Abigail Han, what would it be about and how will it be presented?
“My life experience, like the country where I was raised, is an amalgamation of cultures and identities. Singapore is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country that frames its identity around diversity. My life has been an echo of that.
From my earliest memories, my palate was formed around my grandmother’s Hainanese cooking, but my parents also loved Indian food, and we were often in little India enjoying an assortment of South and North Indian dishes.
For University and grad school, I studied in America. Mexican food, food truck culture, the old-school American diner just to name a few, amongst other food exposures in the US, blew my mind. The identity transition from being the majority race in Singapore, to a foreigner and ethnic minority in the US, shattered a lot of my complacency, which altered my perspectives ever since.
My husband is an American who I met here in Singapore. Our married life has been an adventure. Our wedding theme was “Circle Square” — as in a round peg, in a square hole — meaning we don’t naturally fit together. Meeting him also expanded my cuisine even more. Through his family, I recently discovered Louisiana Boudin — a pork-based sausage with rice and jalapeño, found commonly on the border of Texas and Louisiana. We started making it from scratch in our home and it’s been a hit here in Singapore! Like my country, my life is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines.”
How did the pandemic affect your creative process and how were you able to turn it around with the launch of Project Cookoh and #WarTimeWorthy?
“A lot of things happened during the pandemic. I initially coined the term #WarTimeWorthy because Covid felt like war, and I thought a lot about what women in Singapore did in their kitchen during WWII — how they got creative with the food they made when trying to stretch their food budget. I got married during the lockdown and we were stuck at home. My husband encouraged my creativity, and I created a lot of new recipes. Some favourites included Singapore Chili Crab Ravioli, Durian Kueh Salat and mastering a good tomahawk in the sous vide.
Project Cookoh was a passion project that a friend, Samantha, roped me in on. It started with a band of low-income mothers who wanted to start home-based businesses in an effort to support their families. I worked with them on their branding, pricing, recipe refining and product photography, but the success of these brands was due entirely to the hardworking mothers who started this business during a difficult time while raising multiple children at home. I have nothing but admiration for these women who have since become friends. Their best-selling dishes are a perfectly-fried tahu begedil, melt-in-your-mouth brownies and a rich and delicious ayam gulai.”
Women and children are often at the centre of the stories you seem most interested in. How and why is it important to you that stories of these ‘least represented’ groups be told?
“It is important to tell the stories of the least represented. I understand that my life circumstances — my family, my country, and many of the opportunities I had growing up — these are things I was given and did not choose for myself. I was permitted platforms and opportunities that others did not have, simply because of their lot in life. As an avid storyteller, I try to tell stories that include people from all facets of life. I am reminded that structural poverty exists even in a place like Singapore. Hard work, even in a meritocracy, is not always enough to lift someone out of poverty. Without the right resources and opportunities, generational cycles often perpetuate themselves. The money, talent, capacities, and resources that we have today are mostly due to the time, place, and family in which we were born.
When working with people from different backgrounds, I need to be quick to listen and slow to speak. My art practice, which is often slow and meditative, taught me that efficiency and swiftness aren’t always the best way forward. It is the same with handling stories that are not my own — they require handling with care. But the biggest rewards revolve around meeting people who have different worldviews than my own and telling their stories, which is an immense privilege.”
“An artist’s life, history, place in time, point of view, and cultural upbringing are a unique permutation that can never be replicated. Each person’s art is unique because each person is unique. Originality stems from being able to dig deep into one’s unique history and point of view.”
Talk us through your essentials in living out your ‘most beautiful life’. It can be anything from beauty, fashion, lifestyle, wellness, etc.
“In a modern, social media hungry world, we often fill our time and consciousness with what’s trending, what’s on tv and what’s on social media, myself included. Often, that hinders, rather than amplifies, a creative and imaginative life, which is what makes life beautiful. Being intentional about reading, meditating, and reflecting is essential to cultivate creativity. These are the things I would love to see amplified in my own life.”
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