Home: An Anniversary Special with Mary Bernadette Lee

1. Share with us a little about yourself and your background.

I’m Mary, a visual artist based in Singapore and I am into my seventh year of practice.

I work with the community; I collect stories, create new narratives with them and present them in the way that allows for others to share, resonate and see the world a little differently. My works manifest in paintings, illustrations, linocut prints, woodcut prints, clay sculptures, textile installation and publication. I love to explore different kinds of mediums and material because I treasure how they inform each other resulting in innovative presentations and new meanings.

I also teach, create content and facilitate workshops for a variety of people from different backgrounds. I use my role as an artist and teacher to be a vessel for accessibility and expression.

2. What did you envision for this collaboration?

I wanted everyone from the Barehands team to JS’s family and myself to be part of the production. The work has to be a joint-effort and voices, equally heard. This co-creation approach is essential to my practice and to Barehands' philosophy. I believe this set the foundation to what was to come after. 

3. What is the theme of this collaboration, why was it chosen as such? 

The theme was centred on our interpretations of what Home means to each of us. I believe it is something each one of us can identify with regardless where we’re from, and somewhere in this identification, there is a sweet spot where we converge to have a collective and shared sentiment.

I conducted a virtual drawing workshop where I took the Barehands team, JS and family through a series of reflective and drawing processes where we created thoughtful mind maps, illustrations and shared our stories behind our works. I further analysed our responses and categorised our interpretations into two broad categories - People and Feelings.

The motifs were created from the drawings shared by the Barehands team, JS and family. I also used their shared sentiments, spoken and written, as an inspiration to create more motifs. The motifs on the dress represents how we find a sense of Home in People where we connect, grow and evolve together. The motifs on the jumpsuit represent the Feelings associated with a sense of Home such as the feeling of freedom and ease to express how we feel, a sense of peace being in a safe refuge and space, the feeling of being mutually supported, of belonging and familiarity.

All the motifs are situated and arranged at the back of the apparels because I feel that most significant and meaningful things are not typically displayed on the outside or the front. It’s usually at the back, fronted by a facade or buried and hidden, which takes time to unearth, re-discover and understand. Having all the designs at the back was deliberate and representational of that depth.

Images below: Sketches of JS and his daughter, ZR, when asked "what does home mean to you?" and the final images of the end product carved and handprinted by Mary.

"Home for me is my family. They are where I feel safe and happy." - JS
"Home is where I can speak freely and be understood." - ZR, Daughter of JS


4. Why did you decide to partner Barehands on this project?

I value Barehands’ work, ethics and philosophy. Despite being only two years young, they have persevered in their endeavours to work closely with communities from different parts of the world with the intentions of providing employment, preserving traditions and generational craftwork. I resonate with having a core foundational platform from which all actions come from. As someone who works dominantly with my hands, I also love that Barehands focuses on that as part of their process. It’s important to me that we aligned and are on the same page from the get go.

5. How was your experience conducting a mind-mapping workshop with Barehands, our artisan, JS and his daughter, ZR?

It was refreshing because it was a unique opportunity to connect despite the distance, and especially during this pandemic. I also feel connected because doing the work with people from different backgrounds often brings in humility and a different perspective. It is an experience I miss the most during these two years when face to face interaction with participants was cut short because of the pandemic.

6. What does Home mean to you?

Home is where I invest time, energy and emotions into. It is a place that becomes a space. It can be a person or an animal. It is where I evolve together with a community and as a person. It is where and with-whom I feel safe and accepted. There is honesty, love and realness where Home is. It is also something which I am willing to work hard for; “Home” should always be maintained with intentions and clarity.

Our Story of Home: Barehands x Mary Bernadette Lee's collection launches on 13 May 2021, 8PM (SGT) in our Canyon Jumpsuit and Luna Lounge Dress. Limited pieces available.