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Private Vanitas

19.3.2024 - 20.4.2024

Exhibition statement


In recent years, I have been particularly drawn to illustrating elements of everyday life. Capturing fleeting moments, one that might not be noticed otherwise. Through this portrayal of still life and interior scenes, I wanted to depict a modern interpretation of the genre, whilst paying homage to the age-old concept of Vanitas paintings.  


Vanitas artists in the 17th century devoted their craft to portraying a message that things of this world - pleasures, money, beauty & power were not everlasting properties. Using symbology such as wilting flowers, skulls, musical instruments and food to convey this theme throughout their works. They mainly take on two interpretations within this theme. Firstly, a hopeful approach, which compares the fleeting and vain nature of earthly pursuits to a glorious eternal after life and the second, which speaks of the fleeting nature of existence itself, where life is all there and so the meaning lies in the pursuit of all of it’s pleasures while it lasts. By paying homage to the past by interpreting the vanitas symbology into contemporary allegories that speak about mortality and the cycle of life in contemporary environments, they document personal dialogues of the everyday and intimate glimpses into these transient memories.  


I felt that in a post pandemic world, it was important to look back in history to revisit this thematic in painting. Illustrating psychological themes of solitude, melancholy and isolation allow me to process our shared experience post-lockdown and to deal with the surreality of the times. Drawing from an array of vignettes, both classical and contemporary, ranging from intimate interior scenes and flower studies, I wanted to transport myself to a space that could give insight into the way we perceive ourselves in relation to our immediate environments as I do not think that it is fully evident yet how such an experience has transformed our outlook and behaviour as humans. We are still processing this whilst trying to get normalised in moving forward.

Each work is a reflection of an aspect of my personal world, be it a space or object that I have encountered. These images are then remixed with imaginary elements or spliced with other items digitally before painting. By observing these personal everyday objects in my surroundings, I am reminded of aspects of life that are often overlooked, yet undeniably integral to our being as well as the transient nature of our existence. The memories sometimes are all we have of something, an experience, a taste, a smell, a conversation, never to be recreated or experienced again and most of the time, memory serves as an unreliable narrator. I hope that these ambiguous narrations translate not only as an analogy of contemporary existence but also as a reminder that in today’s age of digital connectivity, reality and truth are often blurred and never in black or white. Fiction becomes the truth and truth becomes the action in this age of technological interconnectedness.    


It felt important to me during these recent years to depict these spaces and the presence they had in my life once upon a time in the world. In times of such confusion amidst technological advancements, I wanted to create, document and engage with this new reality, where the personal space itself is the temporary. In a fast paced world where multiple realities can exist, the need to seek out solitude and disconnect seem more vital than ever as a space of introspection towards the constantly shifting landscape of existence.


Justin Lim
Kuala Lumpur, December 2023

Related Artists

Justin Lim 林道杰_edited.jpg

Justin Lim

Selected Artworks

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