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Curating Shared Experiences
Singapore’s annual art festival is more than a showcase of talent – it’s specially curated to highlight cross-border and international concerns and relationships to spark public thought and discussion.
BY ANITA YEE
PHOTOS ART STAGE SINGAPORE, NANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ART, NATIONAL ARTS COUNCIL, SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION, THE A LIST SINGAPORE
very January in Singapore, citizens, residents and international visitors get to immerse themselves in numerous art fairs, gallery openings, exhibitions, lifestyle events, public art walks, and discussions on art and culture.
For six years now, the National Arts Council (NAC), the Singapore Tourism Board, and the Singapore Economic Development Board have jointly organised Singapore Art Week (SAW), a 12-day celebration of the visual arts that spotlights Singapore as Asia’s leading arts destination.
DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW
SAW 2017, themed “Through Stranger Eyes”, was curated to allow art enthusiasts and visitors to explore cultural connections through Singaporean, regional, and international art. It also inspired thought and discussion about important global and social concerns among its visitors.
Low Eng Teong, assistant chief executive officer of Sector Development at NAC, notes that in addition to the many new multidisciplinary works and programmes featured last year, there were also several cross-cultural collaborations among the visual arts programmes presented. “We saw four Singaporean and three Indonesian artists exploring the cultural and social connections between Singapore and Batam,” he says.
Fantasy Islands, a collection of perspectives on the myriad links (geographical, economic, spiritual, etc.) between Singapore and Batam, saw participating artists taking to the shores and streets of Batam for inspiration and “raw material” – they snapped photographs of people and buildings, recorded the sounds around them, and interacted with the locals to understand various things they found interesting. Their respective art pieces expressed how each artist perceived the relationships between the two islands.
The group exhibition, specially commissioned for SAW 2017, shared what the artists had personally learned with the broader public, Low says. Fyerool Darma, a Singaporean, shares that his takeaway from the project was a sense of how Singapore and Batam are “distant cousins separated through time”. Indonesian visual artist Evelyn Pritt’s photo installation, Land Marks, catalogued abandoned buildings and unfinished developments as a comment on Batam’s drive towards modernisation and its accompanying costs.
“[Collaborative Multidisciplinary] Projects Can Promote A Greater Understanding And Appreciation Of The Visual Arts Across Borders, And Encourage Artists And Visitors To Exchange Ideas And Inspirations Through The Language Of Art.”
Low Eng Teong, Assistant CEO Of Sector Development At NAC
Low adds: “Such projects can promote a greater understanding and appreciation of the visual arts across borders, and encourage artists and visitors to exchange ideas and inspirations through the language of art.”
A highlight of SAW 2017 was the seventh edition of Art Stage Singapore, South-east Asia’s flagship international art fair. Its mission is to bring the region’s markets together into a united bloc that ups the visibility and marketability of South-east Asian art on the world stage. One of its features was the second annual Southeast Asia Forum. Titled “Net Present Value: Art, Capital, Futures”, the forum examined the relationships between money, social and economic ideals, and the art market.
“These perspectives display how art is starting to influence our ways of thinking and perspectives, and subsequently, the way we view aesthetics in other creative categories such as design and architecture. We are seeing not only how art is becoming more multidisciplinary, but also how its transition into other categories continues the discussion on the values of art and capital, with these key industries being major players in creating market mobility,” enthuses Marcus Teo, chief operating officer at Art Stage Singapore.
Teo says the proactive interactions between different groups, such as speakers (e.g. Jason Wee), artists (e.g. Zhang Wubin), participating galleries (e.g. Fost Gallery, Pearl Lam Galleries), collectors (e.g. Alain Servais), academics (e.g. Beatrix Ruf), and visitors from the public, were the elements that resonated most strongly with him.
Art Stage Singapore also brought the best of Asian contemporary art to the fore through programmes such as Art Week Conversations – public talks given and curated by art consultants, collectors, gallerists, and curators. Cities For People saw various artists, architects, designers, and urban researchers from Singapore and overseas discussing food, sustainability, biodiversity, energy and water resources, and the social, cultural and political constructions of space.
Professor Ute Meta Bauer, founding director of the Nanyang Technological University Centre for Contemporary Art, Singapore (NTU CCA) and a professor at NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media, says Cities For People was part of NTU CCA’s pilot edition of Ideas Fest 2016/2017, and highlights other parts of that initiative.
“We hosted a dinner for 200 – a participatory artwork called 70 x 7 The Meal, Act 40 – by Lucy and Jorge Orta.” The menu was designed by Chef Misso Russell Keith of Open Farm Community, which uses locally sourced or sustainable produce. Prof Bauer further explains: “With this work, the artists addressed topics such as food sustainability and the environment.”
Also part of Cities For People was Ocean Blue(s), a cross-disciplinary performance by Laura Anderson Barbata and the Brooklyn Jumbies – artists from Mexico and the Caribbean diaspora. It combined stilt dancing, spoken word, dance, costumes, and music, and addressed humanity’s physical and emotional relationship with the ocean. It is hoped that a greater awareness of this will galvanise more people into taking positive steps towards environmental care and protection.
“What draws me to every artist is the way they encourage out-of-the-box thinking, and contribute to wider conversations pertinent to contemporary art and how we perceive our world today,” says Prof Bauer, adding that she is in constant dialogue with the artists she collaborated with at SAW, and continues to follow their work.
Themed “Discover. Experience. Engage”, SAW 2018 ran from Jan 17 to 28, and was curated to be a lot more family-focused and inclusive than previous editions. NTU CCA’s exhibition The Oceanic (Dec 9, 2017, to March 4, 2018) showcases works that address the environmental, cultural, and social transformations that have taken place in the Pacific and its archipelagos due to the impact of recent human activities at sea.
The Singapore International Foundation (SIF) supports artists through its Singapore Internationale programme, by aiding these artists in exhibiting their work and forming connections overseas. It is supporting Ho Tzu Nyen, who presented One Or Several Tigers – a theatrical video-based installation – at SAW 2018, in bringing this artwork to several other cities this year: Athens, Greece, from May 2 to 16; Brussels, Belgium, from May 4 to 26; and Amsterdam, Holland, from June 7 to July 1.
The SIF is supporting Hoʼs overseas presentation as the work showcases a part of Singaporeʼs history (including historical records, myths and legends) to an overseas audience, using an innovative fusion of media art technologies and traditional South-east Asian arts – in particular shadow puppetry.
The Singapore International Foundation (SIF) believes in making friends for a better world through shared ideas, skills and experiences to uplift lives and create greater understanding between Singaporeans and world communities. The organisation does this through a variety of programmes, ranging from volunteer cooperation to cultural exchanges to leveraging digital new technologies to effect positive change. Since 2011, the SIF has brought together world communities through SIF Connects!, an annual event held in capital cities such as Jakarta, Mumbai, and London, and biennially in Singapore. The aim is to rekindle friendships and renew ties. This year’s Singapore edition featured a two-day programme where our international friends had a taste of Singapore’s various facets: from historical to social to conservation and even residential. It culminated in a special finale flavoured with local cuisines and peppered with performances by some of Singapore’s most-loved entertainers. Dubbed ShiOK! Nite, this light-hearted evening provided attendees with a snapshot of Singapore’s colourful and multicultural way of life, celebrated new friendships, reconnected old friends. ShiOK! Nite was also a platform for the SIF to honour its network of Friends of Singapore and Citizen Ambassadors – people who recognise that Singapore sits within the global community and that there is a need for greater understanding among countries in order to build a better, more peaceful, and more inclusive world.
EXPERIENCING THE HEART AND SOUL OF SINGAPORE
SIF Connects! Singapore, held over 30 November to 1 December last year, saw over 100 international participants renew ties with their Singaporean friends. It was also an eye-opener for many of them. Though short, it was a chance for many to learn more about the ways of our tiny island-state, from its arts and cultural heritage to its approaches towards social innovation and urban sustainability. For this year’s programme, participants experienced the vibrant historical districts, social enterprises, water conservation sites and residential project, Ponggol Eco-town.
After a visit to Dignity Kitchen, a social enterprise that provides hawker training for persons with disabilities, Ms Kavita Choudry, SIF Representative in Mumbai, said: “(I have) learnt new perspectives on the way Singapore is planning ahead and how some individuals are making an effort to make Singapore a more inclusive society.”
Another participant, Mr Alman Dave Otanes Quiboquibo from the Philippines, was surprised that Singapore was so “green”. “When you think about Singapore, you usually think about buildings and man-made structures but actually, it is such a green city,” said the SIF-ASEAN Fellowship alumnus, who visited the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Dr Neil Khor from Malaysia was inspired by Singapore’s example of managing its assets well, thus creating “a whole new standard of sustainability”.
As an eagerly-anticipated event on the SIF calendar, SIF Connects! allows global programme alumni, partners and friends of the SIF to reconnect or foster new friendships with Singaporeans.
A NIGHT OF ENTERTAINMENT AND CELEBRATION
But the local experience for the international visitors did not end there. SIF Connects! Singapore finished on a high note with ShiOK! Nite, a light-hearted evening that saw the SIF’s Singaporean and international friends and partners gather together to network, mingle and reconnect. Mr Baey Yam Keng, Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth, was guest-of-honour.
ShiOK! Nite kicked off with a buffet of local dishes and performances by some of Singapore’s best-loved entertainers, including Selena Tan, actress, comedian, and one of the “Dim Sum Dollies”, and vocal group MICappella. Guests also got to enjoy the Tari Saman, a traditional dance performance that originated in Aceh in North Sumatra, and a Thai cultural performance.
SINGAPORE, IN THEIR WORDS
Some Friends of Singapore (FOS) share their thoughts and views on our island state.
“I think the development happening in Punggol is extremely exciting. What is really interesting is the decision to make a meandering waterway through the town. It’s much more creative and exciting and dynamic than the norm. It makes it a really lovely place to come and stay.”
Christopher Davies, from the United Kingdom
“When you think about Singapore, you think about buildings, you think about a lot of manmade structures but when you realise it, it’s such a green city and not just in terms of architecture and engineering but literally it’s green, there are a lot of trees. I read just last week that Singapore is No. 1 in terms of tree coverage so I find that very, very amazing – for such a small city, to have so much nature within it.”
Alman Dave Otanes Quiboquibo, from the Philippines
“It is very interesting to see a social enterprise that gives help or assistance to disabled and disadvantaged people. You know, helping other people that are under- privileged… Thailand has an ageing society as well, so this kind of social enterprise will be very helpful – to be an example for our society to adapt and which we can share with one another.”
Taweesak Kritjaroen, from Thailand
“The best thing about this visit was a very good mix of a lot of different aspects of Singapore – the art, the culture, the planning, the urban planning, self- sufficiency, and water, and how Singapore is achieving it... and gaining new insights about the way Singapore is planning ahead, into its vision, and how it’s keeping people together. How it’s kind of imbibing the spirit of Singapore into young children so that they grow up to be better citizens; how some people, individually, are making an effort to make Singapore a more inclusive society, especially for the handicapped – the Dignity Kitchen was a great concept that I’ve seen for the first time in my life.”
Kavita Choudhry, from India
“I think it’s important to focus on the people to people connections, be it culture, be it language, food. There are so many commonalities. It will help us build a stronger and a deeper friendship.”
Sathish Raman, from India
“Singapore has really gone beyond just being a garden city and it’s a great example of how, if you manage your natural assets well, you can create a whole new standard for sustainability.”
Dr Neil Khor, from Malaysia
There was much buzz around the photo exhibition, featuring photographs taken by the SIF’s Citizen Ambassadors (CAs) who have volunteered in its many programmes. Titled Picture A Better World, it displayed snapshots of the CAs in the many different ways they contribute to building a better world. From children connecting through play, to volunteers toiling in a paddy field, to a woman unmasking her true identity, the winning photos articulated a thousand words. From the over 50 entries submitted, five were singled out for their powerful messages of hope, friendship and collaboration to inspire more people to volunteer their time and talent to help build a better world for all.
And there was truly no better occasion to honour the individuals who support the SIF’s mission to connect, collaborate and effect change in world communities. One of the evening’s highlights included the recognition of 14 Singapore International Volunteers (SIVs), partners, and programme alumni. Over the years, these individuals have shared their ideas, skills and experiences in areas such as arts and culture, business and livelihood, education, healthcare, and the environment.
Mr Baey presented the annual Dedication Awards, which honoured the long service of the five recipients: Mr Allan Tee, Ms Betsy Ng, Mr Brian Lim Song Hong, Mr Muhammad Yusof Mohd Ya’kob and Mr Seluasundram s/o Nagalingam.
Mr Yusof, an SIV for the SIF’s Water for Life (WFL) programme since 2012, was “humbled” to receive his award, saying that it was motivation for him “to continue volunteering overseas with the SIF and making friends with other communities”.
Following this presentation, the Special Commendation Awards were given out for the very first time. These awards recognised all those who have contributed their time and talent to support the work of the SIF. The Global Citizen Award, which recognises individuals who have partnered the SIF in multiple programmes across various areas, was presented to Ms Annie Yeo for her contributions to WFL, Young Social Entrepreneurs Programme and the Arts for Good initiative. The Citizen Ambassador Award was presented to Dr Akhileswaran Ramaswamy for his work in Volunteer Cooperation, Dr Esther Joosa for her work in Cultural Exchange, and Mr Keith Chua and Mr Kevin Teo for their work in Good Business.
As the first recipient of the Global Citizen Award, Ms Yeo said that she was “honoured” and “grateful”, and praised the SIF for its “work in bringing world communities together to make a positive impact”. She added that the SIF has inspired her to see the importance of building enduring relationships.
And finally, the Friends of Singapore – Gotong Royong Awards, which celebrated enduring relationships with international friends: The four recipients of this award included Mr Andy Holley (Germany), Mr Christopher Davies (United Kingdom), Mr Mochammad Nunung Kurniawan (Indonesia), and Mr Taweesak Kritjaroen (Thailand), all of whom flew in to Singapore specially for the event.
By the end of the night, old friends had reconnected, new friendships were made, and all guests left with a better understanding of Singapore and a greater appreciation for the work the SIF does.