The Gift

What is in a gift?

From social act to cultural performance or philosophical concept, the apparently ordinary act of gifting is in fact ambivalent and paradoxical, and consequently a source of fascination, vexation and debate. Unlike the economic transaction, the gift is more than the object of its exchange. It is an embodiment of an expansiveness of spirit by the giver, that often obliges its receiver, and may even unintendedly become an onerous burden.

The exhibition, The Gift, is part of a broader project titled Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories that is developed as a dialogue between collections of four museums. The conversations extend into four related exhibitions that include artwork exchanges. This exploration of collections also uncovers histories of collecting – of gifts received, rare discoveries unearthed, and acknowledgements of significance. As with the gift, the value of these accumulated objects confer upon the collection stature and prestige, but also impose a duty of care and responsibility for these riches.

Yet a gift may not necessitate reciprocation or result in obligation. Without a return, the receiver simply yields to the gift. After all, it is the asymmetrical condition of power and obligation that gives the gift its meaning. For it is not the gift itself but its performance of interrelation that binds the bodies it intertwines, leaving its trace in object and memory.

A gift is only a gift if it is entangled.

Exhibition Information

20 August – 7 November 2021

City Hall Wing, Level B1
The Ngee Ann Kongsi Concourse Gallery,
National Gallery Singapore

Free for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents

Supported By

Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories

Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories is a dialogue between the collections of Galeri Nasional Indonesia, MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and Singapore Art Museum, initiated by the Goethe-Institut.

Aiming to trace stories, counter-histories, and absent histories whose spirits populate the present and seek new narratives, Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories explores the question of how these interwoven histories within nation-building processes, individual identity formation, and their embodiment are reflected in artistic works and their exhibition history.

Since 2017, the members of the curatorial team have been sharing their investigations into their respective collections, expanding their research towards each other’s collections, and interrogating each other’s gazes. This dialogue will be followed by four different exhibitions in Chiang Mai, Jakarta, Singapore, and Berlin. These exhibitions are jointly conceived by the curatorial team consisting of Anna-Catharina Gebbers, Grace Samboh, Gridthiya Gaweewong, and June Yap. For each chapter the nature of the exhibitions will be altered, shape-shifted and will specifically respond to each site and context with works from the collections of each chapter’s exhibiting institution. Loans from the respective other collections will foster the dialogue of shared knowledge and shared collections concerning shared and entangled histories. Further, there will be film programs, performances, seminars, workshops, and publications conducted in conjunction with each of the site-specific exhibitions.


The Gift captures the Singapore segment of the curatorial project, Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories. Focusing on ideas of inter-relation and exchange manifest in history, geography and identity, this catalogue features the works of 15 artists in an examination of how the gift is performed, remembered, and entangles.

This catalogue accompanies an exhibition by the Singapore Art Museum at the National Gallery Singapore. Browse the e-catalogue in full here, or purchase a copy through the link below.

Buy the publication