SINGAPORE: For next year’s M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, audiences are invited to “walk” in other people’s shoes by presenting shows that tackle the global refugee crisis, workplace discrimination, and women’s relationship with beauty – all through the lens of one of Singapore’s most respected female artists.
The lineup for the 14th edition of the festival, which runs from Jan 17 to 28, 2018, was revealed on Tuesday (Oct 10). It will feature 16 local and international works that revolve around the theme Let’s Walk, which is also the title of an iconic performance by contemporary artist and Cultural Medallion recipient Amanda Heng.
This kicks off a new thematic direction for the festival, which will be selecting and curating shows based on a signature work by a local female artist for the next three years.
Prior editions have always revolved around exploring art in relation to general themes and topics such as “education”, “people”, “skin” and “animal”. But festival artistic director Sean Tobin said they wanted to take things further.
“The idea of this thematic series is to partly think about local contemporary artists who have been forerunners in contemporary from Singapore. And when I think of people who have really pushed the envelope and done meaningful work that is resonant and progressive, both locally and internationally, Amanda Heng represents that,” he explained.
After Heng, the 2019 edition will be themed after Suzann Victor’s Still Waters, while the 2020 edition will be based on another female artist’s work, which has yet to be finalised.
Earlier today, the festival was also accused of censored programming, after Singapore collective The Glory Hoes announced that a film screening it was invited to present was pulled from the lineup and festival brochure due to its LGBT theme.
LET’S WALK THROUGH HISTORY
First performed in Singapore in 1999, Heng’s Let’s Walk series has also toured to countries such as Indonesia, Japan, Germany, Spain and France. It featured the artist and invited participants putting a high-heeled shoe in their mouths and, with the help of a mirror, walking backwards.
The performance was a response to the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, which affected a lot of women in the workforce.
“During that time, a lot of industries were affected and people were getting retrenched. But more significantly, women were getting retrenched at a higher rate than the men were,” said festival manager Jezamine Tan.
“It’s also been observed that during financial crises, the beauty industry becomes stronger – which brings up questions of whether a woman can hold on to her job more if she remains beautiful. These were some of the things that Amanda was interested in bringing up.”
But Heng’s Let’s Walk won’t simply be an inspiration for the festival – the artist will also be taking part by doing a new version of her performance with other participants, who will be walking from The Substation to the Merlion Park. She has also begun a durational performance, where she walks from Clifford Pier to the Causeway checkpoint in Woodlands.
The documentation for these, as well as workshops held with students, will also be presented at an exhibition in May.
A FEMINIST FRINGE?
Aside from Heng’s performances, there is also a notable number of works by female artists or those that tackle women’s issues.
Edith Podesta is presenting a dance theatre piece that reimagines the fairy tale The Little Mermaid, while Pink Gajah Theatre presents a reflective work performed by Sharda Harrison and her mother.
Canadian group Ground Cover Theatre is showing Displaced, a piece about three female immigrants who flee from Ireland’s Potato Famine, war-torn Germany, and the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan; while Walking In Beauty is a storytelling session by various Singaporean women who talk about issues on beauty.
Other shows include Does This Work For You? by young Singapore collective The Nervous System, which explores workplace discrimination; Attempts: Singapore by Rei Poh, an immersive theatre piece where audiences piece together the identity of a female character; and Forked, the first full-length play by actor Jo Tan about a female Singaporean who abandons law school to study acting abroad.
The festival’s sole exhibition, All In Her Day’s Work by Charmaine Poh features portraits of women in various lines of work, such as mail order brides and those working in the beauty industry.
While the organisers didn’t consciously fashion a “feminist” edition of the festival, it was understandable that the festival lineup lean towards this, given the concerns that often come up in Heng’s practice. But there’s more to the festival lineup than just works that tackle feminist issues, said organisers.
Said the festival’s executive producer Melissa Lim: “The theme Let’s Walk is such an open one. For instance, we wanted to look at refugees because essentially, it’s also a movement of people. And also the idea of "othering". Whether you're a migrant or a student studying abroad, there’s also some sort of movement going on. We tried to open it up as wide as possible so it doesn’t just look at feminism strictly.”