Meet: Fié Neo Wen Jing
Central Saint Martins, UAL graduate Fié Neo Wen Jing recently won the British Council Singapore’s Study UK Alumni Award for Social Action. These awards celebrate the achievements of UK alumni in Singapore.
Fié is an artist with a practice in social engagement working with refugees, homeless, youth and the elderly, through theatre, films, public interventions and community engagement.
Fié is the Founder of INSEP, the International Network for Socially Engaged Practitioners, which brings together people from around the world to collaborate across sectors in advancing the impact of social engagement projects.
She spoke to us about her practice and her time at CSM.
Congratulations on recently winning the Study UK Alumni Awards Social Action Award in Singapore. How did it feel?
The award ceremony took place two days after Russia invaded Ukraine. Honestly, I had mixed feelings. There is so much more work to be done in this world and I often feel limited. This was one of those moments.
You won the award for your dedication to social engagement. Has this always been something that you’re passionate about?
Yes, definitely. I remember experimenting a lot with wearable art and performance art back in my first year at CSM. Back then I was interested in how to open up conversations around social or political issues through these art forms. As my practice developed, it became less and less about the medium. I started looking at impact and I think that really pushed me to work in public spaces and with different communities.
You founded INSEP (International Network for Socially Engaged Practitioners). Can you tell us more about this?
Back in 2017, I was invited by our academic dean back then, Mark, to participate in EAP (European Academy of Participation). It was a European project meant to develop a master's in participatory art. I was involved in that project for two years and had the opportunity to meet many experienced practitioners all over Europe. I was really inspired by the community and felt a sort of belonging with them. Back then it wasn’t easy finding people who have a socially engaged practice and I felt very alone in the challenges I faced in my practice. It was things like ethics engaging in public spaces, how to hold a safe space for participants’ vulnerability, how to draw appropriate boundaries… I started INSEP to hold the content and network from EAP together as well as to continue reaching and engaging others in this field so that we can better support each other in our journeys.
You also have a podcast series, Onions Talk where you share the stories of change-makers as well as provide insights and resources to support more sustainable ways of working. How was this process for you?
Well, INSEP’s completely unfunded and it was really difficult sustaining my work for it. Also, I realised I was at the centre of the network. There are so many brilliant people and projects but it’s impossible for me to organise calls and connect everyone all the time while juggling other paid work I had to do. I was in Canada at the time I started it, a few months after the breakout of Covid-19 and when the world was in lockdown. Stuck in the countryside, I decided to start this podcast so that people will get to know amazing people doing inspiring socially engaged work and that in a way, my network lives on beyond me.
Did your time at CSM have any impact on your current work?
I had access to many opportunities when I was at CSM. I guess I was also actively seeking them as I knew these were opportunities that were not necessarily available in Singapore. Out of juggling three part-time jobs, schoolwork and several external projects, I learned project- and time-management well.
The professional opportunities from CSM gave me the confidence and portfolio to pursue other projects post-graduation.
I also met many interesting peers from all over the world on campus, learned about society from many different lenses through them and that shaped my worldview.
What are you currently working on?
I am wrapping up Sustenarts, which is a project that I produced bringing together artists and sustainable start-ups to amplify climate solutions through public engagement.
I am also developing online courses via INSEP’s website for people interested in pursuing a practice in socially engaged arts. After a bit of a break, I’ll probably start writing project proposals again. Hit me up if you are keen to collaborate!