Masculinity is often associated with strength, dominance and control. But in the eyes of multimedia artist Brian Gothong Tan, this need not be the case. 

To challenge the notion, the 41-year-old artist has put together The Swimming Pool Library exhibition, which consists of nine chapters, showcasing his thoughts on human sexuality through different art mediums such as paper sketches, paintings and 3D printed sculptures. 

“I just want to explore this idea of sexuality [as it] has been coming out of late. I see a lot of movements [that] are very politically motivated and mine is a bit softer [and] a bit more surreal,” he said.

The exhibition was named after Alan Hollinghursts’ 1988 novel, The Swimming Pool Library, which is about the friendship between a young gay aristocrat and an elderly man.

One of the 3D sculptures from the exhibition is based on Mr Tan’s interpretation of the novel. To him, the swimming pool represents the fear of seeing other people’s bodies and facing his own body insecurities. 

Mr Tan added that he was born in an era with no Internet so his knowledge about himself and his sexuality came from reading LGBTQ+ novels in the library.

Brian Gothong Tan’s 3D sculpture was inspired by a dream he had after reading The Swimming Pool Library. Photo Credit: Stacey Tay

The Swimming Pool Library exhibition is very personal to Mr Tan as some of his paper sketches illustrate his most vulnerable moments during his childhood. He opened up about his sexual assault at the age of 13 and how the incident also allowed him to discover more about his own sexuality. 

Service 23 is a collection of drawings and photographs by Brian Gothong Tan. Photo Credit: Stacey Tay

The collection includes a comic that depicts Mr Tan’s encounter with sexual assault on a bus while on his way to school. He did not tell his family about his traumatic experience until more than 20 years later. 

“When you are a man or boy, you are expected to behave ‘macho’ [and] you cannot show weakness. I just ignored it and pretended it never happened,” he said. Creating the exhibition was thus therapeutic for him since he could confront the memories that he had suppressed.

Mr Tan said that this exhibition is more than his autobiography. It also includes experiences of others in the queer community. Another piece of his is a colourful series of photos depicting his friend Elias’s coming-out journey as a transgender male. 

Brian Gothong Tan hopes that patrons who are not from the queer community learn more about the experiences his friends have faced for being queer. Photo Credit: Stacey Tay

“He had a relatively easy [time] coming out, it just shows that the younger generation has an easier time compared to the older generation,” Mr Tan said. 

One highlight of the exhibition is the ‘live sculptures’ that were performed by volunteers from the queer community. Mr Tan wanted to give them a space to be seen and to leave an element of surprise for visitors.  

“Queer bodies in Singapore are hidden [and] they are not depicted in the mass media often. They are not seen except [in] underground places like clubs and nightspots [so] I wanted to showcase them [in this exhibition] to make the invisible visible,” Mr Tan said. 

The ‘live sculptures’ at the exhibition represent the existence of people in the queer community. Photo Credit: Stacey Tay

The exhibition is free and runs until 20 January 2022 at T:>Works Singapore. For more information, visit

Proofread By: Rytasha Passion Raj