Shaun Tan. Arrival, 2006. Drawing.


29 october 2016 – 8 february 2017

Considering different ways of thinking or living inevitably raises questions about the human encounter. What do we have in common among all these variations? What are the most fundamental characteristics that unite us and perhaps define our humanity? Where is the ‘train station’ where all these cultural railways pass?

These might seem like big philosophical questions, but one doesn’t need to present them in big philosophic ways. They all come up on a modest scale, especially in literature for young people. Here we are compelled to consider essential things all the time, and at its best, this literature asks very profound questions in a way that is disarming, entertaining and even silly, much as children do.

Interestingly, writers and artists (like children) don’t do this by examining life reductively. You might pull a clock apart, boil chemicals down to a periodic table or crack a DNA code to say, ‘look at these fundamental building blocks’. Instead, we try to do what evolutionary nature does, experimenting with constant sideways variations on existing things, testing to see if anything clicks—creating small other universes that hopefully intersect unusually or surprisingly with our real world, like so many species of beetle studied by Charles Darwin, each further questioning and defining an essential idea of ‘beetle-ness.’

My illustrated fiction offers an example I’m best qualified to discuss, particularly The Arrival. This book more or less began as a grand ambition to tell a universal migrant story. In early notes, I explained to my editor that I wanted to ‘distill’ multiple anecdotal histories I was researching – across many countries and centuries – into a single story featuring a generic everyman protagonist. That was the initial guiding concept: distillation. In practice, however, it seemed impossible to think about so many real-life tales reductively.

More information can be found in the Folder (available only in Swedish).

About the artist

Shaun Tan grew up in a suburb of Perth in Western Australia, with a Malay-Chinese father and a mother with English and Irish roots. At an early age he showed an interest in drawing and studied art and literature at the university. As a teenager, Shaun Tan drew science fiction and horror cartoons for smaller newspapers. In his adult life, he has often been described as an innovator of the picture book that creates visually powerful stories with the human being at its core. He uses various artistic techniques such as pencil, Indian ink, colored pens and painting. He also employs different printing methods and regards every book as a visual and verbal storytelling experiment. His production consists of over twenty books, translated into several languages.

Arrival, 2006.