Renowned Artist Benny Ong Partners Breast Cancer Foundation for Women.Shoes.Freedom Exhibition

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Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF), a non-profit organisation with the mission to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease, has been chosen as a charity partner by renowned London-Singapore designer and contemporary artist – Benny Ong – for his latest exhibition, Women.Shoes.Freedom. The show will run from 8 March to 7 April at the UOB Art Gallery. The launch event was held on 10 March, with BCF representatives sharing more on Healing Through the Arts programmes. In addition, proceeds from the sale of one of the art pieces will be donated to BCF to support the cause.

Women.Shoes.Freedom is a collection of new hand-woven art designed by Benny, exploring the traditional and modern role of women, using traditional weaving materials juxtaposed with modern imagery. The works build on Benny’s ongoing passion for combing traditional weaving techniques of master Laotian weavers with bold, captivating contemporary art that invite viewers to build on narratives woven into each piece.

“This show is about exploring traditional views and the emancipation of the modern woman – and there was no shortage of inspiring narratives, from the recent US presidential elections to the Soong sisters,” said Benny Ong. “In particular, one group that really resonated with the theme of this collection were breast cancer survivors. I found many pieces in this collection echoed the struggles and stigma of the disease, so intrinsically tied into womanhood.”

“We are extremely honoured to work with such a renowned artist such as Benny,” said Noor Quek, President of BCF. “His exploration of the modern woman parallels so many of the challenges that women diagnosed with breast cancer face. Through his expert craftsmanship, his works exemplify the power of art in driving greater conversations and awareness of important issues in our society.”

In support of BCF’s work to support those affected by Breast Cancer, proceeds from the sale of the piece – “The Sisters Soong I” – will be donated to BCF. Commissioned in memory of the emancipation of Chinese women bound by shoes since young, it represents their freedom from these shoes. This art piece seeks to pay homage to their strength and resilience, much like the breast cancer survivors of today.

Benny has always been in the forefront of things. In the 1970s, after graduating from Central Saint Martins, he was the first Singaporean fashion designer to establish himself in London. His remarkable acclaim in extremely respectable collections gave a face to his birth nation, Singapore. Over his long and illustrious career, Benny’s client list included the late Diana, Princess of Wales, Her Royal Highness Duchess of Kent and Queen Noor of Jordan.

The early 2000s saw him on a new and exciting journey, experimenting with textile design, leading to a collaboration with a group of master weavers in Laos to create a series of stunning woven art work in silk. Benny recently held an exhibition in 2016, titled ‘The Pioneering Spirit’, which incorporates work by some of Laos’ top weavers. His major series of works to date include “Abstract Dreams” at the Mori Museum, Tokyo, “Prince of Gowns” at the National Museum, “Peranakan” Studio Collection and “Rewoven” at Singapore Art Museum.

Benny is a recipient of the Singapore Design Golden Jubilee Award 2015 by DesignSingapore Council under the Ministry of Communications & Information for his many contributions to fashion, design, and now, his cross-disciplinary exploration of textile art.

Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF) is a non-profit organisation with the mission to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease. Set up in 1997, BCF is committed to raising awareness about breast cancer through talks, events and publications that advocate early detection through regular screening. BCF also supports survivors, caregivers and their families through various counselling, education, empowerment and ‘Healing through the Arts’ activities. One of the first advocacy groups in the world with a Men’s Support League, BCF aims to encourage greater male participation in society’s fight against this affliction.

Eliteror caught up with Ms Noor Quek, President of BCF, on the foundation’s journey and what lies ahead.

1) Breast cancer awareness has come a long way. There is a coordinated effort from health institutions, media support and community organizations. What do you think attributed to this success?

The awareness of breast cancer and the importance of early detection is a message that needs to be continuously repeated.  BCF is a lay-led organisation which has been spearheading this cause for the past 20 years but much more needs to be done.

With about 1,850 women diagnosed each year, breast cancer is Singapore’s most common cancer in women, affecting 1 in 11 women. It is not just a women’s issue, but a societal one, affecting these women’s families, their workplace and even the wider community.

We are fortunate to have received a wide range of support from public and private organizations over the years. For example, our BCF Education and Empowerment Programmes (BEEP), empowering and supporting women with breast cancer, is targeted not only at survivors and caregivers but healthcare professionals and corporations.

Last October, we also partnered with Land Transport Authority (LTA) to launch the Pink Train – an iconic pink MRT train highlighting key breast cancer awareness.

Partnerships like these help to amplify awareness on breast cancer, and target larger and more difficult to reach segments of society.

2) Almost everyone has a breast cancer story, or a cancer story in their family. Do you think cancer awareness and better overall health outreach have made the general population sit up and take action?

To a certain extent, the overall outreach has made people more aware but the uptake has been slow – translating awareness into action is what is key. As such, the advocacy is continuous.

At BCF, we advocate early detection and screening.  Breast cancer does not have to be life-threatening when discovered and treated early.

More organizations – across both public and private sectors – are realising the importance of early detection and are working together with us on this advocacy objective. For example, lifestyle organisations like Club 21, Takashimaya, Estee Lauder and Jean Yip have partnered us to help reach out to women in a non-fearful, non-threatening environment, which we hope has empowered more women to go for regular screenings.

At the same time, our collaboration with major healthcare organisations such as the Health Promotion Board (in providing free mammograms for low-income women) and the corporate community (through awareness talks and public education events) has enabled us to widen our outreach.

 3) How have breast cancer support groups evolved through the years?

BCF initiated Support Groups when it was established 20 years ago.  It started with our survivor members sharing their journey first-hand, helping to answer questions they were facing, and overall giving them the encouragement and support to go on.  Today, the Support Group continues to be a key programme BCF runs for people affected by breast cancer, including the men in supporting the women in their lives.

The survivor’s quality of life depends in no small measure on the care and encouragement of their loved ones and the support group.  The much needed network of love, care and concern provided by the support groups is essential. 

BCF is one of the few breast cancer advocacy groups in the world with a Men’s Support League to emphasize men’s role in society’s fight against this affliction.

 4) How do you manage to get noteworthy organizations to co-partner and provide sponsorship?

 In Singapore, there are many causes to support so it’s a constant challenge. We are glad that with our proactive outreach and a supportive network of people who are passionate about the cause, organisations have come to see the results of what we do and believe in what we stand for – advocacy and support for women diagnosed with breast cancer and their families.

There are also those who are inspired by the strength and resilience of breast cancer fighters, and this has led to numerous opportunities and collaborations.  Our recent partnership with renowned artist and fashion designer Benny Ong is one example. Through his Women.Shoes.Freedom exhibition (highlighting the theme of emancipation of women), he felt that breast cancer survivors really resonated with the theme of his collection and intrinsically tied to womanhood and empowerment.

 5) What are you working on, for the next phase of BCF? 

Having reached our 20th anniversary, we are gratified that breast cancer awareness has come a long way.  At the same time, we feel that our work is just beginning. 

Apart from celebrating our journey, we also want to ensure that we continue to provide for the evolving needs of society as it deals with breast cancer.  The changing support needs of breast cancer survivors and their families, the increasing importance of caregivers including men and what issues they face, new channels of bringing the awareness message to the heartlands and the wider Singapore community – these are but some of the many new areas that BCF is exploring further into and will be the thrust of our programmes for the coming years.   

UOB is the venue sponsor for this exhibition, which is open to the public to 7 April at the UOB Art Gallery – located at the lobby of UOB Plaza 1. Admission to the exhibition is free to the public.

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