Volume 1 Issue 4
December 2012
Kuo Pao Kun Festival - Photo Courtesy of The Theatre Practice | Singapore Arts Festival - Source: www.facebook.com/singaporeartsfestival | The Venice Biennale - Source: www.labiennale.org | SKL0 - Source: skl0.com

10+1 Local Arts/Theatre Happenings in 2012

Written by Teo Eng Hao

10+1 seems to be the exemplary symbol to conclude the arts/theatre happenings in 2012, as we witnessed the 10th anniversary of the passing of Kuo Pao Kun and 10th birthday of The Esplanade. Alone, 10 is a number of perfection and wholesomeness (think 10 fingers and toes), a good, even, finite number to round things up at the end of the year and make some sense of them; however there is bound to be something left out of those 10 places we created, maybe "+1" will signify our awareness of more happenings out there. For some, the +1 is a seat reserved for the special one who can't make it for all sorts of reasons; and for us, it's for the readers to fill it up with whatever deserves that special place in their heart (hint: maybe the most important and impactful happening is the launch of a certain e-Newsletter?).

A disclaimer that this is not meant to be exhaustive or directive and it's just my own take:

1. Kuo Pao Kun Festival (Year Round)

2012 marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of Kuo Pao Kun, the Singapore dramatist, art activist and public intellectual. The legacy he left behind has such a deep impact, not only in Chinese theatre, but in Singapore theatre; not only locally but also in other countries; not only in the realm of arts/theatre, but in society in general.

The Theatre Practice has curated the Kuo Pao Kun Festival with a year-long series of events (performances, academic conference, exhibition etc) to commemorate the theatre doyen. Most events have ended, but "A Life of Practice — Kuo Pao Kun" exhibition is still ongoing, until February 2013 at the National Museum of Singapore; and TheatreWorks is presenting the English play Goh Lay Kuan & Kuo Pao Kun, based on the lives of Kuo Pao Kun and his spouse Goh Lay Kuan till February 2013 as well.

In the post-Kuo Pao Kun era, how has local theatre progressed? Do we need or do we already have another figure like Kuo? What can we inherit from him? Are there more theatre veterans that have been forgotten and worthy of mention for their contributions? These are some of the frequent questions raised after Kuo's departure, and there are definitely no standard answers. I guess he would be glad to see us pondering (imagine his signature smile), and posting even more questions, or providing complications instead of answers.

What we really need is his attitude towards theatre and life.

For more information, check out Kuo Pao Kun Festival and "A Life of Practice – Kuo Pao Kun".

2. Esplanade's 10th Anniversary (Year Round)

2012 also marks the 10th anniversary of Singapore's monumental durian-shaped arts centre Esplanade – Theatres by the Bay. Esplanade commemorates this with the theme Celebrating Life — The best of the Human Spirit through the Arts, and came up with a year-long presentation of arts performances and activities that feature and pay tribute to key values.

Singapore Arts Centre (later to be named as Esplanade) was conceived in the 90s, and Kuo Pao Kun who passed away in the same year that Esplanade was inaugurated, had written to The Straits Times in 1992 to express his views on the Arts Centre. In summary, he proposed the Arts Centre not to be limited to existing Western models of an arts centre, but to also envision an Eastern possibility, which would have been the first of its kind. His advice was not heeded.

Although Esplanade did not break ground in the same way as a pioneering Eastern alternative might have, Esplanade has thrived in its first ten years, and has gained international acclaim. We must admit that Esplanade has indeed played an important role in shaping the local arts scene, not only as a venue-provider but also as an event organiser, pushing the boundaries of local arts programming. However, in the next 10 years, Esplanade might need to find her own niche in a globalised world where every major arts centre is assimilated and lacks a distinct identity.

For more information, check out Celebrating Life. Kuo's two articles on the Arts Centre, namely Home for Varied Cultures (P146) and Heart of the Arts: Building on East and West (P147-151), can be found in The Complete Works of Kuo Pao Kun Volume Seven: Papers and Speeches (Singapore: Stamford Arts Centre, Global Publishing, Dec 2008).

3. Arts and Cultural Strategic Review (February)

In March 2010, the Singapore government announced that they would embark on a major Arts and Cultural Strategic Review (ACSR) for the country's cultural development. In February this year, the ACSR committee released the ACSR report that illustrates the government's vision for the arts and culture all the way to 2025. One of the main goals is to make arts more accessible to the public, and to let the community take the lead in developing the cultural scene while the government takes a backseat. Another important note is the recommendation to review the roles of the National Arts Council, the National Heritage Board and the National Library Board, so as to better coordinate their functions to respond more quickly and more effectively to the needs of the community.

On hindsight, we can see how the ACSR reflected the government's cultural policy shift towards the "community", and spawned other happenings in the year that changed the local arts landscape. Although the agenda is fair enough, maybe we can think further on the approach and implications, especially when the term "community" is too broadly used and often misunderstood.

Read more on TODAYonline For Art's Sake!, and Channel News Asia report. Or visit ASCR website.

4. Smoking Ban Lifted for Plays? (March)

The misleading headline of "Smoking Ban Lifted for Plays" in The Straits Times was actually just pertaining to a single show exemption–internationally acclaimed director Tsai Ming-liang's theatre trilogy Only You. National Environment Agency (NEA) had made a one-time exemption on the ban on smoking in theatres.

As the news was released, comparison was raised between Only You and local artist Loo Zihan's Cane during the Singapore Fringe Festival in January 2012. Loo left the theatre space to do a smoking scene at the smoking corner as an artistic and creative way of protest.

NEA made the exemption for Only You because "the play does not promote smoking and the scenes where cigarettes would be lit up would be kept to a minimum." This explanation did not please everyone and some argued that while Loo Zihan's Cane also fitted the bill, the same exception was not extended to him. Nevertheless, as an exemption was made, it opened up a space for negotiations in the future.

Read more on TODAYonline For Art's Sake!, note Loo Zihan's comment at the bottom of the article, which illustrates the larger implication of this entire incident.

5. SKL0 (June)

Samantha Lo, otherwise known by her moniker SKL0, or more infamously as the "Sticker Lady" brought up the endless debate over the fine line between street art and vandalism in June this year, with her stickers and road painting (graffiti?). Police pressed charges under strict anti-vandalism laws against her, and some 14,000 people signed a petition calling for leniency. To some, her works were good street art; to others, her works were sheer vandalism; while more argued that her works are creative but done in the wrong space.

This also led to the issue of whether to create street arts in a designated space is paradoxical to the guerrilla and anti-establishment nature of street arts. Ultimately, this brings about the fundamental question — what is art? There are definitely no convenient or easy answers, and to this day, her court case is not closed. However the vibrant debate after her arrest has died off, there is still room for dialogue. Maybe we should really take a look at her art works and causes before we judge. She's no doubt a serious artist.

Read more on Asia One news. She was recently mentioned in an article introducing "Singapore's Finest" exhibition. She founded the RCGNTN online magazine, and her works can be found on her official website.

6. Singapore Arts Festival's hiatus (June)

Singapore Arts Festival (SAF), the 35-year-old arts festival in Singapore since 1977, is taking a hiatus in 2013 as its organiser National Arts Council (NAC) is going to conduct a review to consider the SAF's future direction. This is to ensure that SAF aligns with the objectives presented in the ACSR published in February. NAC said it hopes to build a stronger arts festival that remains relevant and engages Singaporeans, and one that reflects greater ownership from the local arts community. To kick-start the review, NAC will form a committee made up of members of the arts community and partners, to discuss a new working model for SAF. A "re-energised" SAF is supposed to return in 2014.

Are there already too many festivals in Singapore? Has SAF lost its significance and appeal? For instance, from Esplanade's entrance to the scene in 2002, it now holds 15 festivals a year and brings in internationally acclaimed productions. How is SAF going to reposition itself and develop a distinct identity in today's saturated arts scene?

Read more on Business Times report. Arts NMP Janice Koh also commented on the changing local arts landscape, one of which is the review of SAF.

7. Restructuring of Ministries (July)

With effect from 1st November, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) and the Ministry of Communications and Information (MICA) have been reorganised to form three ministries. A new ministry – the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) is set up, and MCYS and MICA are renamed to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), and the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) respectively.

The National Arts Council (NAC) and Media Development Authority (MDA) used to both be under MICA but now NAC is under MCCY (alongside People's Association) while MDA is under MCI. How would this affect the arts/theatre community? How would the new agendas and roles of the ministries affect the functions of NAC and MDA?

For more information, check out Channel News Asia report and Singapore Government Directory.

8. Singapore Withdraws from 2013 Venice Biennale (Sept)

National Arts Council of Singapore (NAC) announced in September that Singapore would not have a pavilion in the 2013 Venice Biennale, which is the one of the most prolific contemporary arts exhibition in the world. In addition, NAC will also reassess its participation in future biennales in accordance to a long-term cultural promotion strategy. They stated the high cost of renting and operating a space at the Venice Biennale for the main reason of withdrawal, as the returns (international exposure) is not proportional and they are accountable to the public for the funds used.

The arts community, including Arts NMP Janice Koh and Artist Ho Tzu Nyen (who represented Singapore at the 2011 Venice Biennale), has since issued an open letter to the Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts to call on the council to reconsider its decision, and to be more transparent on how the decision was reached.

Read more on Art Radar Asia, and the open letter can be found on TODAYonline For Art's Sake!.

9. The Inaugural Community Cultural Development Symposium (Sept)

The 1st Community Cultural Development (CCD) Symposium in Singapore was held on the 17th and 18th September, and was organised by the CCD (Singapore), Universo Asia and Singapore Polytechnic, with support from NAC. This piece of news may go unnoticed by the general public as there wasn't massive media coverage and the target audiences are artists, community workers, educators and students in relevant studies. Nevertheless, this symposium is still a milestone in Singapore's community arts development.

Another commendable note is that CCD (Singapore) and CCD symposium is a ground-up initiative, and has been planned by CCD (Singapore) since 2011, before the government's cultural policy shift to the "community". For the uninitiated, CCD is an arts practice that incorporates a range of practices and methodologies developed specifically for projects catered to groups in the general community. CCD (Singapore), initiated by Felicia Low, is an organisation that supports community works in Singapore.

Read more on the CCD Symposium Official Website.

10. Sex⋅Violence⋅Family Values (film) Banned (October)

Local comedy Sex⋅Violence⋅Family Values, which was originally given an M18 rating, was withdrawn just days before its scheduled release in October. The film was given a "Not Allowed For All Ratings" classification, which is equivalent to a ban. The Media Development Authority (MDA) cited a scene in the film, in which a Chinese director was seen to be trading racial insults with an Indian porn actor, to be racially intolerant and inappropriate to be screened in our multi-cultural society. Others speculated that the Amy Cheong incident in October have resulted in the cautious stride of the government to be extra mindful of inter-racial issues.

The producers and cast of the film made an appeal to MDA. Many netizens also voiced their thoughts that the film is not racially offensive and is appropriate in its artistic representation. An online petition, as expected, was initiated, to call on MDA to withdraw its decision. This incident is indeed food for thought on the so-called "sensitive" issues in Singapore context (race, politics, sexuality, etc) that MDA often employs to censor an artistic production.

Read more on Amy Cheong's incident, and on the ban of Sex⋅Violence⋅Family Values. You can find the team behind the film speaking up here; and an insightful response from a netizen here.


To you, what is the most impactful happening/issue in the Singapore theatre/arts scene in 2012? I'm sure there are many other incidents or that were noteworthy, so please share with us your thoughts! Meanwhile, let's look forward to 2013 for a year of play (pun-intended) and dialogues!

Eng Hao Eng Hao is a post-graduate student from NTU Chinese Division and a member of Drama Box's youth wing ARTivate. He is also a freelance writer who does editing, researching and translating.


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