SINGAPORE: Organisers of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival on Monday (Dec 5) announced that they have decided to withdraw two shows from the upcoming edition of the festival in January, after the performances were deemed by the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) to have “excessive nudity”.
In a media statement, organisers said they had been in consultation with the artists of Undressing Room and Naked Ladies - by Ming Poon and Thea Fitz-James respectively - following IMDA’s assessment that both works had exceeded the R18 rating under the Arts Entertainment Classification Code.
“While the artists have expressed their willingness to amend their performances to meet IMDA's classification requirements, the festival believes that any adjustments and abridgments to the art works to fit these guidelines will result in significant changes that will affect the original artistic intent,” organisers said. Those who have purchased tickets for the shows would be given full refunds.
"WORKS JUDGED ON NOTION THAT NUDITY EQUALS PORNOGRAPHY"
Undressing Room, starring dancer Ming Poon, is described on the ticketing website as a “one-to-one performance where the performer and an audience-participant execute a ritual of undressing each other in total silence”.
Meanwhile, Naked Ladies is billed as a performance lecture about the history of the naked female body in performance; combining striptease and storytelling, and one where performer Fitz-James uses her own body as a canvas, projecting images of nudes across her own skin.
Organisers of next year's Fringe Festival - themed “Art and Skin” - said they did not want to compromise on the artistic integrity of the performances and hence axed them.
“Both works, in their original forms, are well-crafted pieces exploring issues of vulnerability and identity. We want to reiterate our stance that we do not believe the works to be 'lewd' - to use the term bandied around by some complainants - nor was there any artistic intent to titillate. Both pieces are thoughtful and sensitive; they advocate body positive messages as well as a sense of personal candour and community trust.
“Sadly, these works have been judged based on the preconception that nudity equates pornography. The unfortunate irony of IMDA's assessment of the works having 'excessive nudity' is that both works actually make deliberate attempts to distinguish nudity from sexualised connotations. Ultimately, the licensing process - along with the online furore surrounding these works - deems that society at present is not ready for these cutting-edge, intelligent works.”
In a statement to the media, IMDA noted the withdrawal of the applications to stage the shows. "Even though the original performances clearly exceeded the Arts Entertainment Classification guidelines, IMDA was prepared to consider a modified performance which could be performed under an R18 rating," a spokesperson said.
IMDA said it cited specific examples of how the performances exceeded the guidelines, in its Dec 1 reply to an open letter from a group of arts practitioners known as Arts Engage.
In IMDA's response, the spokesperson noted how Undressing Room involves the performer and audience-participant completely undressing and then touching each other. "Disallowing these scenes can hardly be considered retrograde moral policing; it is an objective application of existing guidelines," the spokesperson said.
“WE BELIEVE IN CONSTANT DIALOGUE”
Last month, a blog post surfaced, accusing the M1 Fringe Festival of hosting pornography disguised as art. Referring to Ming Poon’s show, the post on the “Singapore Affairs” blog said: “If the Government allow this (sic), isn’t this a solicitation for a public sex act? This is as good as prostituting the performing art sector and is downright revolting.”
It also questioned the motivations of festival director Sean Tobin, saying: “As a foreigner who has no vested interest in Singapore’s well-being, why is he allowed to meddle in such divisive issues?”
The post was shared on the conservative Singaporeans Defending Marriage And Family Facebook group, with a call to members to write to ministers to stop the shows.
In response, organisers of the festival defended Mr Tobin, calling him a “champion of Singapore arts, community theatre and arts education” who has curated a “thought-provoking and diverse programme”.
They also said they believe in having constant dialogue and engagement with detractors. ”While we do not agree with their strategy of writing anonymous letters, we would like to understand their concerns better, and come to a better understanding - if not acceptance - of each other,” they said, inviting those who have queries about the festival’s works to get in touch.
“We have been moved and encouraged by the numerous supporters who have spoken up for the spirit of the festival, and who recognise that celebrating diversity means respecting one and all - including those who differ from our ideals. Clearly, our public is more progressive and open-minded than some would want us to think,” organisers added.