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W!LD RICE

Minimalist or minimal: is the arts scene in Singapore plain boring?

Earlier this year, we questioned if Singapore’s arts scene is boring – almost a year on, we’re still trying to find the answer

Cam Khalid
Written by
Cam Khalid
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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, just as how boredom depends on who you ask. Compared to the big cities of New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, Singapore’s arts scene – be it performance, visual or experiential art – leaves much to be desired. The niche audience and inability of artists to express themselves without self-censorship are also genuine considerations faced by locals developing the scene here. But it’s not all Edvard Munch doom and gloom – the growing popularity of immersive exhibitions and live performances have made the arts a little more mainstream. And with accessibility breeds more interesting local works and voices, we hope.

The Good

Henzy David

Platforms like Baybeats and Scape Invasion aid budding musicians to showcase their art on stage. Hyder Albar, the founder of the latter, says that there is a demand for local music. “There are so many gigs nowadays. It plays a part in our flourishing music scene.” He celebrates the Sam Willows, who rose from the small stage to a nomination in this year’s MTV EMA Award’s Best Southeast Asia Act category. “The way for local music to be noticed is to push the mainstream genre. The Sam Willows are bringing recognition to the local music industry.”

Gaurav Kripalani, Festival Director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts states that big arts festivals expose the audience to an array of works from Singapore and around the world. “It also provides artists and art groups with opportunities to embark on productions they would not normally do,” he says, which helps contribute to Singapore’s artistic diversity.

The Bad

According to Alan Oei, Artistic Director of the Substation, the local arts scene can be deemed boring without “a thriving ecosystem of independent artists” to support it. He continues, “institutions funded by the state are important, but the way resources are allocated is very short-sighted.” Despite the pool of talent here, theatre productions and film can be “risky and expensive venture(s), so it’s a struggle for many arts practitioners,” playwright Michael Chiang points out.

But funding isn’t the only issue the arts scene faces. Many are also quick to point out that Singapore’s lack of flexibility and level of censorship hinder creativity. Take a look at Blu Jaz Cafe’s revoked entertainment licence. Yes, safety is important, but surely a better compromise can be reached than an outright ban on live performances – especially when there are already so few places in the city to go for live music. This year’s Laneway Festival also saw international artists Billie Eilish and Loyle Carner disclose that they were banned from swearing, which hindered the delivery of their sets. Succinctly put by writer, poet and playwright, Alfian Sa’at, “if you want more creativity, then you have to relax censorship. Nobody dances on a minefield”.

What we'd like to see in the future

Kelly Fan

But what more can be done to elevate the arts scene here, especially among the youth who are the country’s future. Angelita Teo, Festival Director of Singapore Night Festival, suggests that we ought to celebrate artistic excellence and “encourage our young talent with more arts-infused curriculum in schools and more exposure to the arts outside the classroom. We can offer budding artists more scholarships.”

There’s no doubt that there’s been an increased vibrancy in our arts scene as compared to 20, or even 10 years ago. That said, our arts landscape is still young and there’s always potential to grow. Take Singaporean musician, Ginette Chittick’s advice: “The scene is boring when you don’t dig enough. You have to take yourself out of your comfort zone and not expect the exciting to be convenient.”

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