Common Sense, Where Art Thou?

Singapore has been hosting numerous art and culture festivals for years, but has it done us any good?

By Alywin Chew      16 January 2020

From the Singapore International Festival of Arts and the Singapore Writers’ Festival to the Singapore International Film Festival and the Affordable Art Fair, we are certainly spoilt for choice these days. As art is supposed to broaden our horizons and allow us to see things from different perspectives, you would think that these festivals have made us more cultured and learned.

I don’t think so.

Remember Priyageetha Dia, the lady who pasted gold foil on a staircase and hung gold sheets on the parapets of HDB blocks? Or Samantha Lo, the lady who stencilled “My Grandfather Road” on public roads? People were swift to call out on their “vandalism”.
Come on, don’t be so quick to judge. I’d say, use this to your advantage. The next time an NEA officer tries to fine you for discarding those parking coupon tabs, tell him those tiny circles of orange, purple and green are actually part of an art work representing multiple realities across the universe, or something along those lines. You know, just make it sound deep. After all, art is supposed to be “difficult” to understand.

On a personal note, I must say that I don’t know how to appreciate art. Have you seen the works by Jackson Pollock? To me, his 1946 work, Free Form, looks like a closeup of a pizza. So, let’s start with teaching people like me how to appreciate art before having all these fancy festivals.

One artwork I really like, though, is Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 Fountain. It is literally a urinal. Talk about taking a piss at art…
But that’s not to say that Singaporeans are averse to art. No, we have a propensity for it – more specifically, the performing arts.
You see, “wayang-ing” is something many men turn to when they reach 18. When in the National Service, many guys are constantly thrown into scenarios where they have to pretend to shoot imaginary bullets at imaginary enemies hiding in imaginary trenches.

I vividly remember my BMT situational test 20 years ago. The captain who was invigilating told me that one of my section mates was maimed by an imaginary sniper.

“Sniper? Sir, we were never taught what to do in such a scenario,” I said.
“Use your brain, recruit! Return fire and throw smoke grenades!” he yelled.
Bang, bang, bang, bang and off we went. “Erm, sir, we weren’t issued smoke grenades,” I said sheepishly.

So there you go. For three months, I was ordered to follow instructions to a T and not be a smartass. For once, I was told to cosplay my way out of a situation. I detested officers. But as it turned out, I was darn good at the art of “wayang-ing” too. I made it to OCS.