How does a 19-year-old Singaporean juggle his passion for the arts and full-time studies to become a doctor? Yiming talks about his balancing act.

“I’m currently studying medicine at the National University of Singapore. When I’m not studying, you can usually find me drawing in my room. I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, but these last few years, I’ve started to devote myself more seriously to the arts.

I think I was struggling at first to find a style of drawing that people could recognise me for. But when I discovered ink landscapes, I found them to be very detailed, dynamic and textured. I decided that’s the style of drawing that I was going to box myself into.

Each of my artwork takes a long time to finish. The process takes something out of me each time! It’s like an emotional roller coaster. I’d doubt my every decision and feel like I’m screwing up here or there. But when things finally come together, it’s very rewarding.

Burrow is one of my favourite original works. It took me five months to complete. It depicts humanity in a dystopian future. Because of global warming, Earth got hotter, and we’ve all been forced to move underground. I wanted to convey this extreme sense of hopelessness.

“Burrow” by Yiming

Different countries had gone to war, and there was tremendous pressure to produce energy to fund the war, while keeping the economy going. This forced us to exhaust oil as a natural resource, resulting in climate change. It truly is humanity’s worst-case scenario.

Looking back, I realise that a lot of my artwork and storytelling goes back to climate change. Maybe I just have an affinity with it, but I think the global response to climate change is very disorganised right now. People in power make some very confusing decisions.

As I grow older, I begin to question what we’re doing to the planet more and more. That sinking feeling was so strong that I needed to convey some type of message through my art. The theme that I landed on for Burrow was, ‘Nature will have to reclaim whatever Man has taken from it.’

I admit that I don’t have the answers or the solution to climate change. But as an artist, I want to evoke a very visceral reaction and guttural feeling. This is especially so in Singapore, where everyone’s so busy and avoids anything disconcerting or uncomfortable. 

“Burrow” by Yiming

Anyone with a baseline understanding of global warming can relate to my work. And one of the best things that happened was having a gallery reach out to me to do an exhibition. The gallery is called Not Gallery, and it’s run by this super nice guy called Hong Wei.

I think many established galleries typically host more traditional works by older artists, but Hong Wei wanted to go against the grain and showcase more emerging talents. To be honest, I was shell-shocked that someone wanted me to exhibit. It felt low-key undeserving.

When I got into medical school, I did a lot of soul-searching and concluded that art is something I want to do long-term. It would be nice if I was able to practise as a doctor, but also have the balls to call myself an artist. That was the ultimate aspiration; the ultimate goal.

Yes, I’m more time-restricted compared to someone who’s pursuing art full-time, but I’m free from the idea that art has to be my rice bowl. People say you have the most fun when art is detached from money.

“Burrow” by Yiming

I love medicine, and I love art, but I love them as two separate entities. I never want these two worlds to collide or bleed into one. It’s more efficient for me that way because art offers rest from studying, while studying is the remedy to a lot of the creative blocks I experience.

Perhaps in the past, the idea of committing yourself to two vastly different things wasn’t an option. But now, we can study remotely, and we can work remotely, so it’s possible to live two lives. We can dream as big as we want, and I’m glad to know that I can set this as my goal.” – Yiming, 19

Interview by: Arman Shah