Eduardo Enrique

It was a decision made during COVID. To not give a damn. To not care if the brands that he worked with knew what he does in his art practice. It may seem unusual for a marketing person to take on this stance, but Eduardo Enrique isn’t the average marketing person.

“All I do for work is to convince brands to stay true to what they believe in and connect with the public in a very sincere way,” Enrique shares. 

Like many major world events—9/11, a reality-show star becoming president, the Rohingya refugee crisis, Covid—it is these sorts of grand incidents that one would be cast into an existential funk. For Enrique, he wonders if he should stop hiding who he is and what he does. 

He is no stranger to taking on a nom de plume. His earlier endeavour was Dick Worldwide, where he took fashion accessories and turned them into phalluses. Dick Worldwide blew up when Hypebae reported on his project. He didn’t give a lot of information about himself. He specifically kept away from using pronouns that might give away his gender identity. 

“I didn’t want to attach an identity to the project because it plays a role in what licences you have as an artist,” Enrique says. “It's not a celebration of masculinity. I chose penises because [they are] the oldest form of mockery where there are graffiti of penises back in Renaissance times. If I said I was a woman in the Middle East, the public will see the work in an entirely new way.” 

Identity defines what sort of roles you can have, or even what sort of roles the public expects you to inhabit. As an artist, Enrique finds it challenging to play with sexuality in his work because there’s too much tension around the subject. For Brand Love, Enrique’s last exhibition in Singapore before he left for Hong Kong, he continues questioning pop culture’s fixation with brands with a what-if: What if there was a Nike retail bondage store? 

Taking the identity of a well-known sports brand, Enrique reconstituted it and created fetish garments and bondage equipment. He made sure to keep the installations to be ‘fair’ across genders. “There were two mannequins—one male, one female. I wanted to make sure there’s a good balance between the sexes,” he says. 

“Because we’re in the age of representation, everybody represents something; [they] represent the voice of a certain thing. That’s why my identity as an artist has only to do with the fact that I’m also [a] marketer; it’s never a celebration and a critique against consumerism. It’s an observation because I’m also [a] huge consumer.”

Untitled (2020)

For New Painting, which was held at the Substation in 2020, there was a piece of work with the spray-painted words ‘God’ and ‘Gucci’ with checkboxes next to them. On the first day of the show, a woman, who was smoking mere minutes ago, came in and approached Enrique. She asked him which one he’d pick. He looked at the painting, then back to her. Both, he replied. The woman looked at him and, with a smile, said thank you and left.


“I’m a creative trying to bridge disciplines. Especially in Singapore, everything is so young and arbitrary,” he admits. 

At this point in time, Enrique feels that he is at a perfect intersection to talk about consumerism because he represents the companies in selling the product while commenting on the commercialism part of it. “There’s a love-and-hate relationship,” Enrique says. 

But does that make him a hypocrite? Or can one man embody opposites? 

Enrique funds his own shows. That keeps him free and honest; he is untainted by favours that come with other people’s money. But Enrique thinks that is just how he is. He’s never asked for permission. For his first show, New Painting, he eschewed asking people for permission lest he heard the word no. 

He’s a one-man operation, a self-starter. He chose the Substation, put up his own money, created the artwork which he mounted himself, and opened his exhibition to the public. In his head, he has calculated all possible scenarios of things that could go right and wrong. If he had dwelled on these scenarios, he’d never have put up an art show.

Eduardo Enrique’s bio on The Artling states that “the artist explicitly denies talking about his nationality, as he maintains that one should not be judged based on their geographical origin”. Fair that. But it is in this writer’s opinion that to know where you’re going, you need to know where you’ve started from.

Enrique grew up in Caracas, Venezuela. It’s a setting he describes as “very conservative”. His family model isn’t traditional: his parents divorced and his mother raised her kids by herself.

He sees parallels with his mother. “We have the same work ethic,” Enrique reveals. “She’s a go-getter and she finishes what she starts. I don’t think her parents allowed her to be creative. My mum wanted to study architecture but she was forced to choose something else. 

“But she is a fount of creativity and while she never articulated it, she taught me that, to a certain extent, there always needs to be an element of joy in what you do.” 

His childhood was idyllic, but living in a third-world country that’s prone to coups and political upheavals, he became familiar with uncertainty. His family were nomads; Enrique never spent more than four years in the same place. It’s a transient lifestyle that is rather normal to him. He remembers that when he hired someone to help him move, the person asked where the rest of the furniture was. “I’m like, no, this is it,” Enrique says. “As a minimalist, I’ve to let go. Materialism is cyclical.” 

Even the artworks?

“I think you need to be detached to them emotionally,” he says matter-of-factly. “I dispose of a lot of my artwork. I’ll tell people on Instagram that I’m getting rid of a piece and it’s up for grabs.” There is an item that he cannot abandon.

Nike shoes.

He was never much for brands, even when he was living as a stereotype of a Brooklyn hipster when he was working for the creative agency, Swell in New York. Biking, buying vinyls... Enrique was into fashion but he wasn’t into the hype of it. 

“My whole background is in fashion advertising; fashion was about vanity,” he notes. “As a child, vanity was my way of patching up a lot of my insecurities. You buy things to feel empowered, to feel cool.” 

So, when he saw a black pair of Nike Air Force 1, it spoke to him. Enthralled by the silhouette, he forked over money for the sneakers and became a returning customer. He has a collection of Air Force 1s that he can’t bear to be rid of. He lugs them around, this minimalist and his yoke of passion. 

His mother and he lived separately but they still saw each other. Enrique was working at Fabrica then. “She ended up in Singapore. She called me one day and said, hey, I’m going through breast cancer treatment. I quit [my job] and moved to Singapore.”

She got better and Enrique expected to be in Singapore for six months but it stretched to six years. During his tenure, he worked for two creative agencies and made his foray as a full-fledged artist.

"Nude Model in Air Jordans" (2020)

A friend—who prefers to remain anonymous—owns, according to Enrique, “one of his best pieces today”. It’s called "Nude Model in Air Jordans". Taken from his exhibition New Paintings, the piece is a large canvas with the title spray-painted on the back. “When I started, it was important for me to land the idea that I’m not interested in technicality. I’m a conceptual artist. I don’t care about the quality of things. I want people to feel like they could have done what I’ve done. 

New Painting was about classic themes with a twist of modern consumerism. For the front, I tried to render nude modelling or Jordans in so many different ways. But I’ve decided that the front will remain hidden. The painting only exists in your mind and that to me is the best painting I’ve done. 

“This guy looks at it and says that he loves it but can’t articulate why. I told him that I’ll sell it to him if he promises never to see what’s on the front. He agreed, and knowing him, he never did peek at the front.”

Brand Love (2022)

The original plan for Brand Love was to put up a pop-up in the middle of the street. Enrique’s name wouldn’t be on it, but it would be a pop-up that was selling these art pieces. “I’m not Banksy. I’m not somebody with a following,” he states. 

So, Enrique got local art gallery Art Now to house his exhibition during Art Week. “I wanted to make it clear that is art,” he explains. “So we put up all the signs that say I’m not affiliated with Nike. There was only so much planning we could do until Nike sends in the cease-and-desist. It would have been a much different show but I’ll be happy with that outcome as well.” 

This time, he got collaborators to design the interior. He set aside a space for Nike’s cease-and-desist letter. A space in the corner, almost like a taunt. It remained empty throughout the showing. 

Sexual liberation, a commentary on materialism, but there’s another takeaway from Brand Love that not many people will pick up. It’s about courage. “I wanted people who viewed the exhibition to tell me that it took a lot of courage,” Enrique says. Remember, this man is an overthinker and that sort of trait can eclipse that first step in doing. 

Can you imagine doing something that doesn’t shake things up? You can chalk it up to Enrique’s revolutionary South American way of thinking. But to have a true revolution in the culture, you’ll need to challenge the status quo. Love Brand is Enrique’s own little coup in the local art world. He hopes that it’ll at least inspire people to take bigger risks.

"No One Knows" (2020)

Enrique’s life is a series of happy accidents. Recently married (he met his flight-attendant wife on the plane), they are moving to Hong Kong for his new job with Edelman. “Motion represents so much of my life and Singapore is such a dream to live in. There’s no safe place than here, but I am curious about what else is out there,” Enrique says. “Hong Kong seems like a chaotic place, and having come from the chaos I need a little bit of it.”

But first, they would need to travel to Russia so that his wife can get her travel permit. It would be weeks after they arrive there that Russia would invade Ukraine. The battle reminded Enrique of his past, but what he thinks of current events will be another story of his to tell. 

Still, his life is never boring. “My biggest fear in life is to get stuck," Enrique says, "so I’m always challenging myself to just keep blooming."

Originally published April 2022


(Editor's Note: The interview with Paul Bettany took place in November 2020, during the US elections.)

It is the day after 3 November and Paul Bettany sounds weary over the phone. “I’m just a little shell-shocked.” His words have that leaden air of someone who is spent. Like most Americans, Bettany stayed up all evening and into the wee hours of the morning, just waiting on the results of a continuous election. “[Joe] Biden is still predicted with a 90 per cent chance of winning. But yet again, the polls got it wrong, the media got it wrong… I just don’t know how democracy survives if there are two sets of facts. How do you vote if both sides have been fed by their own media outlets?”

Bettany is political and is aware that his celebrity might get in the way of said politics but he couldn’t just be quiet on social issues. So, four years ago, when Donald Trump was inaugurated, the British actor filed for US citizenship. He had already lived in New York for about 16 years then and wanted to dig in to save the republic. “I’ve lived here for a long time and I understood the political processes, what the electoral college is, which is the remnant of slavery, and that is still deciding our elections, instead of the popular vote.

“And so, I’ve decided to vote. I decided to get involved.”

Then a fatigued beat. “What I didn’t realise is that I should have also moved to Florida [to make some sort of difference].” Bettany catches himself. “I mean, this isn’t the conversation you were probably expecting.”

It wasn’t. But we weren't surprised either. The interview was supposed to focus on Bettany’s latest project, WandaVision, but given the climate (Nevada still hasn’t finished tallying the votes), politics does seep in and momentarily hijacked the conversation. In this year’s election, President Trump faces off with former Vice-President Biden and the numbers aren’t looking too good: the purported ‘blue landslide’ that was supposed to occur didn’t. And even if the Democrats squeak by with a win for the  presidency, they still do not get a majority in the Senate, which makes it harder for a Democrat president to get anything done in the White House. In a world where Trump, an erstwhile businessman and a reality show host is the 45th president of the United States (though ‘united’ might be a bit of a stretch at the moment) of America; this is the world that Bettany must contend with.


In a different world, Bettany might not have been Vision.

He was the voice of Tony Stark’s AI. As JARVIS. His voice is a spring-heeled walk across syllables—light and precise—the dependable Girl Friday who handles Stark’s affairs with aplomb. As the story goes, Jon Favreau, who appeared with Bettany on Wimbledon, was the director of Iron Man and said they needed “the voice of a personality-less robot” and thought of him. Bettany found that funny and agreed. He voiced JARVIS in the Iron Man trilogy and first Avengers film before transitioning to an acting position as Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Speaking with BBC Radio 1, Bettany confesses that a producer told him his career was over, which blew up in a shouting match. When Bettany stepped outside, he was gripped with this fear that maybe there was some truth to it; that maybe he was done. As he sat on the sidewalk on Sunset Boulevard, trying to compose himself, he got a call from someone. It was Joss Whedon, who was going to direct the sequel to The Avengers. Whedon was calling Bettany, asking him if he wanted to be Vision.

If that was a movie, you couldn’t have written that scene any better.

As Vision, Bettany has a lot of scenes with Elizabeth Olsen, who plays his love interest, Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlet Witch. Olsen and Bettany display that sort of rand relationship that’s doomed from the start—she a living, breathing mutant; and he a robot that’s only alive because of the soul gem.

Bettany is rather resistant to the idea of on-screen chemistry. He’d describe the incredulity of a scene where the blocking, the too-bright lights, the heavy make-up that “looks great on celluloid but not in real life”, is just concrete ground where any real emotion finds no purchase. It is acted out, which—surprise, surprise—is what Bettany, an actor, does really well.

But that is not to say Olsen and Bettany don’t get along with each other. They do. Both are professional thespians who are cognisant of being on time to the set, being judicious about their lines.

Having shuffled off the mortal coil in Avengers: Infinity War, Vision returns. Kind of. We’re not sure as Disney likes to keep a lid (with an NDA pasted over the hasp) on its projects. But this is what we do know: Wanda and a seemingly alive Vision returns in a TV miniseries called WandaVision.

Exclusive to Disney+ online streaming platform, the show is based on two story arcs from the comics: Tom King’s run of The Vision creating a family and living in suburbia, and Brian Michael Bendis’s House of M storyline where the Scarlet Witch’s reality-warping powers created a world in which mutants have sovereignty over human beings.

“I’m sure you’ve seen the trailer,” Bettany says. “It is as mad as it looks. Jac Schaeffer did such a great job with the writing and the show works as a beautiful puzzle box—it shows itself the more you peel back the layers.”

The series has Wanda and Vision live out their lives in different sitcom settings—the black-and-white backdrop à la Leave It to Beaver to the vibrant hues of the ’70s—and each framework has a “reason and purpose” according to Bettany. It’s also Marvel’s way of having a conversation about the history of American sitcoms, which Bettany says makes the series “very different from any of the other Marvel stuff”.

To understand the periods and genres his character goes through, Bettany brushed up on his sitcoms. “It was really pleasant research. There were lots of Malcolm in the Middle… you know, lots of shows with a loving family unit and all of those sort of references. And it was interesting to see how they become more cynical throughout the years. In the ’50s in America, they were buoyant; during the ’70s with shows like The Brady Bunch, where it’s so happy but it feels false because of the Vietnam War. Roseanne, in the ’90s, has a blue-collar family that argues and talks about [real things that affect real people]… sitcoms become less gilded and less romanticised.” The sitcoms he grew up watching in the UK were different. There were the reruns on Saturday mornings like I Love Lucy but he remembers Only Fools and Horses and later Blackadder.

The idea for WandaVision is to have the same sort of production values as any Marvel movie. But you’re working on eight hours of television for the production cost of a two- to three-hour movie. “It was difficult but that was easily mitigated by one director, Matt Shakman, an absolute genius.”

Bettany reveals that like a sitcom, the first episode was shot in front of a live studio audience. “Done in two days, shooting it like what they would have done back then, afforded some clever time management as the time taken is usually focused on the tail end of production to shoot the big action stuff.”

As part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), WandaVision is supposedly tied into the feature film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The careful crafting of the MCU means a punctual release of its projects but with a worldwide pandemic, films are withheld from screening in the theatres; productions have halted. While without specifics, WandaVision is expected to debut in December but that remains to be seen.


A Different Path Not Taken

There was a moment in Bettany’s career that hinted at the promise of an action hero.

In 2010, he played the gun-toting archangel Michael, who fell to earth to prevent the end times. It is as gonzo as it sounds. It was an unexpected role for Bettany, at least to me, who had played in more dramatic outings like Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and A Beautiful Mind, both Oscar winners. Then a year later, Bettany did Priest which was based on the Korean comic book of the same name. In it, he plays the titular character who battles his way through a vampire horde to rescue his niece. Again, it is exactly as gonzo as it sounds.

While Bettany isn’t opposed to being the lead of another action film, Priest and Legion weren’t box-office hits. The movies came out during the post-recession years, a period that economists cited as the weakest recovery since the Great Depression. He was married to Jennifer Connelly with two children to care for and another that was just born; Bettany needed to find work to support his family. “Everybody was scrambling to get jobs, to make some cash in case the world fell apart. Luckily, Vision happened for me around that time, I think,” he says.

As for the unexpected action hero role, Liam Neeson has donned that crown since Taken. “Was Neeson in his 50s when he did Taken?” Bettany asks. “Give me another 10 or 15 years. Maybe by then I can take over, move into that market position that Neeson has taken.”


A Simpler Time

While it would be nice for a simpler world, Bettany can’t get behind the idea of a superhero team unilaterally deciding to ignore sovereign borders and carry out extrajudicial killings. “I think that would be awful. That’s what Captain America: Civil War was about. In fact, that would be more like The Boys.”

As consumers of entertainment, the superhero genre offers a respite from the real world. It’s an escapism. But Bettany is active in causes that he feels are important. With this celebrity, he is amplifying movements that he cares about. “I’m kind of an optimist in that way.”

And assuming Trump gets four more years?

“Trump claiming a victory now without all the votes being counted is no victory. Right now, I can only see as far as the ballot counting. At the moment, we’ll have to get through this.” There’s a pause on the other end. “[If Trump is elected again] it’s very likely to be dreadful.” The numbers show a country that’s divided. Regardless of who wins the presidency, one-half of the population will feel disenfranchised. The wound remains open, the split threatens to widen.

But one of the keys to being an actor is empathy. Bettany sees acting as “trying to [place] yourself imaginatively in different people’s circumstances”. He believes that the power of films is the spellbinding evocation of empathy. And maybe, all of us can be actors, in our own ways.

We can escape to new worlds of our choosing, but for Bettany, this is one he opted for the long haul. Despite its sharp edges and surprising joys, this is the world he lives in and will continue to do so.

Our World, Now

After the interview, Bettany will nurse a cup of coffee. As the caffeine fires up his senses, he will ruminate about what to get for his wife for her birthday. Then his mind will hopscotch to Christmas, and then he’ll pore through scripts, deciding on what other new places to explore. He wonders about the reception of WandaVision, he’ll prepare to do press for his next project, an Amazon Prime Video film called Uncle Frank.

Invariably, he’ll excessively read the newspapers and scroll through his newsfeed, hoping to see if the numbers have changed, hoping to catch a glimpse of light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Originally published in December 2020