Donna Ong / Singapore b.1978 / Robert Zhao Renhui / Singapore b.1983 / My forest is not your garden (detail) / 2015–18 / Mixed media installation / Installed dimensions variable / © The artists / Courtesy: The artists, FOST Gallery, Singapore, and ShanghART Gallery / Photograph: Natasha Harth

Donna Ong & Robert Zhao Renhui
My forest is not your garden 2015–2018

On Display: QAG, Watermall

My forest is not your garden 2015–18 is a collaborative work by Singaporean artists Donna Ong and Robert Zhao Renhui. The work is a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ and takes a critical look at our attitudes towards the natural world of the tropics. The installation combines Ong’s arrangements of artificial flora and tropical exotica on antique-style tables (From the tropics with love 2016) with Zhao’s display that explores Singapore’s natural history through documentation, both authentic and fabricated (The Nature Museum 2017).

Ong has arranged artificial plants and animal sculptures on antique tables, which look like a forest or a jungle inside the Gallery. Zhao has created a museum-style display that explores Singapore’s natural history through documents, photographs, objects and books, both real and imagined. Both artists’ projects started from researching the ways the tropical rainforest has been represented in magazines and books, and how these images have influenced our interactions with the natural world.

For APT9, Robert Zhao Renhui has collaborated with Donna Ong.  Growing up in the city of Singapore, Ong was fascinated with the wild landscapes she finally encountered when travelling as an adult, and how these compared with the impressions of nature she had formed from images from books and magazines. Since 2008, Zhao has been working under the creative framework of the Institute of Critical Zoologists, whose mission is to ‘advance unconventional, even radical, means of understanding human and animal relations’.



What kind of environment do you live in? How does your idea of a place differ to what it is actually like? Imagine being in an environment that you have visited, such as a busy city, small country town, tropical rainforest, harsh desert or a snow-covered mountain. Describe what you imagine it would be like using all your senses.

During your visit to APT9

What is similar and different about the ways Donna Ong and Robert Zhao Renhui work? How do their installations relate to each other? Identify elements that are real and imagined in both artists’ projects.


  • how Lisa Reihana, Donna Ong and Robert Zhao Renhui recreate landscapes, events and historical records to help us think about truth, representation and imagination.
  • The term ‘cabinet of curiosities’ is used to describe both Anne Noble’s beehive and Ong and Zhao’s installation. What do these artworks have in common?


Ong and Zhao’s installation is based on research in the fields of zoology and botany. Research a real plant or animal. Experiment with ways of presenting your research to include real and imaginative elements.

Contemporary context

How do Donna Ong and Robert Zhou Renhui:

  • employ imagery and/or display techniques to challenge aesthetic traditions?

Personal context

How do Donna Ong and Robert Zhou Renhui:

Personal context

  • communicate influences on their life and experiences?
  • generate ideas from their own experiences, imagination or memories?
  • connect with the viewers’ experiences and/or expectations to construct meaning?

Cultural context

How do Donna Ong and Robert Zhou Renhui:

  • explore cultural traditions?
  • reflect community interests through social commentary?
  • respond to influences of art movements, styles and origins of time and place?

Formal context

How do Donna Ong and Robert Zhou Renhui:

  • employ specific art elements and principles to communicate meaning?
  • communicate intentions using symbols, motifs or signs?