Archive for the ‘20 Bicentennial 2019 Biennale’ Category

This issue of s/pores comes after a hiatus of two years.

The minute that it was officially announced that 2019 would be the Bicentennial year we started to grapple with the inherent ironies of a sovereign nation attributing its present success and achievements to the leadership’s appreciation of its colonial history and legacy. What are the stakes involved for Singapore to embark on such a venture?

We planned to produce the s/pores Bicentennial issue after the year was over to allow its significance to fall into place properly. The busy year-long high-profile programme of events over, one might ponder over other ways that the Bicentennial could  have been commemorated, including if 2019 should have been allowed to pass without any fuss.

It would be a landmark for our journal. There was even discussion on whether it should be in the form of a chapbook.



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Updating the Narrative: a Dialogue Between the Former Coloniser and Colonised


The British historian, Anthony Stockwell, once related an anecdote between a former coloniser and formerly colonised. This anecdote yields insights on how we should re-think the idea of ‘British legacy’ or ‘colonial inheritance.’ Stockwell writes that Mrs Margaret Thatcher was so impressed with Singapore’s progress that she once marvelled at Singapore’s success in front of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Mr Lee apparently replied—I like to imagine, he was pretending to sound casual, like it was a walk in the park but the hint of sarcasm in his voice would be unmistakable —“We have applied the lessons the British first taught us and then themselves promptly forgot.”[1] When we use “colonial legacy,” we tend to think in terms of passive reception and grateful preservation of an inheritance. It is as if we were bestowed a Steve Jobs who made sure he left behind enough of his genius for Apple to thrive for an eternity. I bet Mr Lee would have none of this idea of ‘inheritance.’ His caustic retort underscored the extent Singapore has gone (way) beyond our former coloniser. To say he/we made good on an inheritance did not mean that the inheritance was inherently ‘good.’ Strictly speaking, one could come into a miserly inheritance and if one had the golden touch, one could still grow it substantially. The reverse is also true. It is, therefore, illogical to deduce that because Singapore was successful in growing our colonial inheritance, our apparent success somehow proves retrospectively that colonialism had been ‘good.’ There is at least one logical leap of reasoning here. (more…)

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Redoing and Undoing the Colonial Pageant:

Dialogues with the Raffles Statues


“A world of statues: the statue of the general who led the conquest, the statue of the engineer who built the bridge. A world cocksure of itself, crushing with its stoniness the backbones of those scarred by the whip. That is the colonial world.”

–Frantz Fanon, “The Wretched of the Earth” (1961)

The Singapore Bicentennial, a year-long series of events overseen by the Prime Minister’s Office intended to “commemorate” Singapore’s history, was held in 2019: two centuries after Raffles was granted a lease by grandees of the Johor-Riau Sultanate to establish a British trading post on the island. On 2nd January 2019, the city was abuzz with talk over a curious phenomenon on the site where he was believed to have landed. Artist Teng Kai Wei, commissioned by the Singapore Bicentennial Office (SBO), made the statue of Raffles disappear. With paint applied to the white polymarble statue, Raffles camouflaged himself with a bankhouse towering behind him. An art installation named The Arrivals performed yet another trick of the eye. Four new statues appeared alongside Raffles. All this fuss around the Raffles Landing Site to open a Bicentennial that tried so hard to not talk about Raffles; the rub, of course, being that they were really talking around him instead. (more…)

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Are You One Of Them? –  Music for Everyone: Variations on a Theme


Whoever stepped into the basement gallery of the National Museum of Singapore between 8 October and 8 November 2020 was welcomed by a customary exhibition introduction board, which I have taken the liberty to quote at length below:

First presented in 2019 in Venice, Italy, Music for Everyone: Variations on a Theme, the solo exhibition of artist Song-Ming Ang, was held at the Singapore Pavilion of the 58th Venice Biennale, one of the most prestigious international contemporary art platforms.

Ang’s practice explores the ways people relate to music on a personal and societal level. In his work, music is used to investigate other issues, such as how public participation leads to productive modes of self-organisation, and how conditions of amateurism may generate unusual forms of knowledge. He is also interested in creating environments in which self-imposed limitations can result in the unexpected.


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Looking at Song-Ming Ang at the National Museum, Singapore


Joseph Tham, a practitioner and commentator on the experimental music scene in Singapore, wrote an essay on the restaging of the Song Ming Ang 2020 exhibition Music for Everyone: Variations on a Theme, held at the National Museum Singapore from 8 October to 8 November 2020. Ang’s work represented Singapore at Singapore Pavilion on the occasion of the prestigious 58th Venice Biennale in 2019. As a visual artist and educator, I found Tham’s take on this show enlarged my own understanding and to a certain degree, appreciation of this exhibition. Tham discussed Ang’s work from the perspective of their shared knowledge, background and practice in the field of experimental music. His article gave me the opportunity to see the exhibition through different eyes. In this review, I will offer my thoughts on Music for Everyone: Variations on a Theme as a visual art practitioner and educator. (more…)

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