Disgraced Review: Contemplating Islamophobia in a Post-9/11 World

Powerful, unpretentious and no-holes-barred is SRT’s run of Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Disgraced.

Talking about race, language or religion is never comfortable nor an ideal tabletop conversation topic (especially) in politically-correct Singapore. So when Singapore Repertory Theatre was granted approval by Singapore’s Media Development Authority to run the play without the slightest bit of amendment to the script, we know we are in for a ride.

The play written by Pakistani-American novelist and screenwriter Ayad Akhtar first premiered in Chicago in 2012, bagging the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and many subsequent soldout shows across theatres in the US and Europe since then.

Set in a swanky apartment in Upper East Side New York, successful Pakistani-American lawyer Amir Kapoor (Gaurav Kripalani) and his American artist wife Emily (Jennifer Coombs) invites their friends and couple, Jewish curator Isaac (Daniel Jenkins) and Kapoor’s African-Amerian colleague Jory (LaNisa Frederick) over to dinner. We get this sense that Amir identifies and has assimilated into the American community, hiding his Pakistani-Muslim roots from friends and employers, even going so far as to change his surname from Abdullah to Kapoor.

gaurav-kripalani-jennifer-coombs-and-ghafir-akbar

PHOTO: SRT

The couple was first visited by Amir’s nephew Hussein Kapoor or Abe (Ghafir Akhtar); for the junior Kapoor explains that the latter helps him to assimilate into the American community like his successful lawyer uncle. Abe sought his lawyer uncle’s help to represent an Imam who was being persecuted for allegedly raising funds for terrorist activities. Amir refuses to even attend the hearing in fear of endorsing a faith he no longer has any love for but relents upon the persuading of Emily.

The dinner session started out tame but quickly takes a turn for the worst. While Emily embraces the Islamic art and its spiritual traditions, Amir explains to the dinner party that Islam is a violent and backward religion that has no place in modern society, throwing many one-two punches – such as citing Islam for promoting violence (against women) and the creation of Taliban – to Jory’s agreement.

Isaac confronts Amir to clarify his politically incorrect views on Islam extremism to which the latter announces that he feels innately happy that they – referring to the Muslim community at large – are finally winning when 9-11 took place, and that anti-Semitism is the way to go. Mayhem followed.

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PHOTO: SRT

Amir’s decision to attend the Imam’s hearing comes back to haunt him as his law firm headed by Jewish partners bypassed the better-qualified Amir to give his coveted partner position to Jory instead. Another sign of Islamophobia. Abe witnesses the breaking down of Amir’s successful life and marriage, and decides to embrace Islamic extremism over assimilation.

Dialogue throughout the play between the five casts is witty albeit laden with stereotyping, bias and a truckload of anger. Like when Amir ridicules the faith of his ancestors by claiming that “Islam is a religion of tough people who suffered in the desert.. with a very angry hate mail to humanity” and “White women take out clothes to make people like them.”

There is nothing politically correct about Disgraced as the different characters representing different backgrounds lay out all their cards – or biasness – on the table. While the play was primarily focused on Islamophobia, Akhtar sought to address the greater picture which begs the question, what is our own implicit bias?

And how do we reconcile our differing values against one’s cultural beliefs? How does one sift out the good values from the bad when it comes to faith? Amir’s role as an agnostic who turned his back on Islam sheds light on this issue. Many things have been said on the addressing of Islamophobia but not much on Muslims themselves. Hardwired into Amir are Islamic values, some of which are portrayed to be extreme in the face of modernity – to which he drew a connection had no place in today’s world. He believes that even the remote connection that people make of him to his faith and community will cause him to be isolated and bypassed for promotion at work. On the contrary, Abe decides that he must embrace extremism because he will always be isolated and judged no matter how hard he tries to assimilate.

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PHOTO: SRT

The portrayal of Amir as an agnostic who turned his back on Islam, Isaac as a progressive Jew are not exactly the best role models for both faiths in question but it does not have to be because we hardly find perfect people with perfect representations in real life. Even Jory’s role as an African-American minority and a sceptic of Islam – perhaps representing the majority of Trump’s Islamophobic supporters in light of the recent election results – is not accidental.

To these problems, Akhtar has no answers. And that is the greatness of Akhtar’s play directed by Nate Silvers. Even if we pretend that everything is status quo or cordial, race, language and religion has and will continue to be a divisive topic. And oftentimes, we forget that the people (Muslims) who are at the centre of debate also have to deal with identity issues of their own. Perhaps knowledge will empower us to make better choices when it comes to socio-cultural issues.

Topics on faith and race are always contentious subjects but kudos to the entire SRT team for a job well done in bringing these often-swept-under-the-carpet issues to light in a matter that is not condescending to the audience. I would also like to acknowledge MDA for giving the go-ahead for this sensitive but important play to be performed in local theatre. Two thumbs up!

Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar

KC Arts Centre

Opens 16 November to 4 December 2016

Located in a spacious Upper East Side apartment in New York, Amir has worked hard to achieve the American Dream. With South Asian Muslim roots, he has gone on to become a successful lawyer, has a beautiful American wife and even a wardrobe of $600 custom-tailored shirts.

But when Amir hosts a dinner party for his African American colleague and her Jewish husband, the initially pleasant evening erupts into a volatile argument over race, religion and class in the modern world.

Ticket Pricing: $35 – $60

Web Link: Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar

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My Mother Buys Condoms: Love, Sex And Senior Citizens?

Can society accept senior citizens falling in love (and having sex)?

Imagining one’s mother or father falling in love with someone else in their 60s isn’t exactly the thing to whet up one’s appetite, neither is watching them ‘go at it’ in theatre the most exhilarating centerpiece act. Thankfully, the latter does not take place except for a harmless peck and some hugs.

One of 8 plays put up by W!LD RICE’s Singapore Theatre Festival, My Mother Buys Condoms examines society’s attitudes towards sex and senior citizens. Written by playwright Helmi Yusof and directed by Ivan Heng, the multi-layered play with a saucy title is already sold out (sorry folks!). Starring Lok Meng Chue, Remesh Panicker, Elnie S. Mashari, Joshua Lim and Seong Hui Xian, My Mother Buys Condoms runs from 14 to 24 July 2016.

The entire play takes place in Maggie’s living room. Maggie (Lok) is a retired 63 year old literature teacher and divorcee with two grown kids. Raju (Panicker), a 57 year old owner of a local air-con servicing company personally attends to Maggie’s house call to fix the living room’s air-conditioner. Strangely, the business owner does not have any employee to perform these small jobs. Egged by comic relief friend and fellow teacher Nora (Elnie), Maggie decides to strike a deal with Raju, giving him 10 English lessons in exchange for a new air-con unit. Raju promises Maggie a new air-con unit, “I will give you all the protection you want, satisfaction guaranteed“, cringe-worthy and as though signifying what is to come.

STF2016 My Mother Buys Condoms by W!LD RICE pic 1

PHOTO: W!LD RICE

“Mrs Lee, if you are in the room, I want to be in the room.”

Upon departure of her children and best friends, deafening silence sweeps into the set as Maggie takes a seat and stares at her book in the quiet of her living room, giving hint of her loneliness. Fast forward to the sixth lesson, Raju accidentally came into contact with Maggie when he laid his hand on hers to which the latter reacted by chasing him out.

Turns out, the two had feelings for each other but Maggie had to deal with her inner struggles caused by her ex-husband who told her that he couldn’t stand being in the same room as her. Raju replies “Mrs Lee, if you are in the room, I want to be in the room.”

The two reconciled and consummated their relationship as we were led to discover – bra and panty everywhere. What followed were a series of hilarious conversations as Maggie attempts to conceal the truth behind her buying condoms by accusing her Muslim friend of having a lover.

The conversations treads between funny and awkward such as when Raju exclaims that “The Japan one (condom) too small” and when Wilfred calls Raju a literal “Mother fucker“. It all goes into the gutters when Nora and Maggie’s children all discovers the truth about Raju. Placed between a rock and a hard place, Maggie was forced to choose between her family (conforming to traditional conventions) or love and passion.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

The intentions behind My Mother Buys Condoms were clear. Is falling in love at a ripe old age so wrong, or is it simply because of our own bias and perception that leads us to reject everything that does not go in line with our own beliefs? It is always easy to play the condemning figure, unless we are the victims ourselves.

My Mother Buys Condoms sings a similar tune to LGBT play where the playwrights asks the question, what does it take for society to grant (one and all) the freedom to love? In one scene, Maggie asks Raju (who has never married before) if he has never been with a woman to which Raju replies “Mrs Lee, I am a man.” This reply hints that Panicker’s character visited prostitutes or has had several casual flings in his earlier years, hence the need for condoms. In spite of this, Maggie loves Raju all the same because when love comes, it comes. And love is love.

Nora, Elnie’s character represents opposition of religion where romances of such calibre are considered harem (forbidden). Maggie’s daughter Gwen played by Seong was the only empathetic one, but only because she has secrets of her own – she is a lesbian. That was perhaps the play’s way of saying that only the marginalised understands the pain of the marginalised, when it shouldn’t be that way. I did however feel that inserting Gwen’s LGBT plot-line was unnecessary.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

Maggie’s son Wilfred played by Lim with his ‘complete family with two daughters’ represents the majority of Singaporeans who would otherwise frown on such ‘immoral’ behavior. But is there an age limit to falling in love though? And should the opinions of others matter more to us than our own happiness?

My Mother Wears Condoms is a hilarious yet insightful take on romance and old age which I thought is so relevant to Singapore today than ever before as we continue to see increase in divorce cases between seniors age 50 and above.

What I could not wrap my head around was how a relationship could develop out of six English lessons and from a mere hand contact. I would also have preferred to see Maggie falling in love with a 20-something though. That would have been a real scandal. RW

Unfortunately, My Mother Buys Condoms is completely sold out. GRC and Hotel, the remaining two Singapore Theatre Festival plays are also completely sold out.

Singapore Theatre Festival: 8 Original Plays on Singapore’s Hot-button Issues

Let’s talk about race, religion, politics, sex and gender identity, shall we? 

This is Singapore. We are forward-looking in many aspects and we rank among the best cities in the world to live in. Yet we can also be viewed as ‘backward’ as a people. Developed and modern as we are, we approach (divisive) issues surrounding race, religion, politics, sex and gender identity either with fear or with prejudices through our own tinted lens. But it doesn’t have to be – and that is where art comes into the picture.

Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” If there is one theatre company in Singapore who is capable of exploring today’s hot-button topics through theatre, it can only be W!LD RICE!

W!LD RICE’s fifth Singapore Theatre Festival will take place in various locations in LASALLE College of the Arts from 30 June to 24 July. The annual festival is a month-long event dedicated to celebrating new local writing. Featuring the work of 9 Playwrights, 8 Directors and 4 Companies, the 8 new plays tell stories of contemporary Singapore and give voice to people from all walks of life: from the young and the old, to minorities and the marginalised, including members of the LGBT, Teochew and motorbiking communities.

Hilarious, witty and thought-provoking all at once, the plays “challenge and encourage us to imagine possibilities beyond our own biases and prejudices, giving us clues as to how we can live with one another”, said STF artistic director and W!LD RICE head honcho Ivan Heng.

I am particularly looking forward to Rodney Oliveiro’s Geylang that sheds light on Singapore’s most colourful and notorious district, and Helmi Yusof’s romantic comedy My Mother Buys Condoms that puts a cheeky spin on active ageing. Mark Ng’s Let’s Get Back Together uses the heartfelt testimony of LGBT individuals in Singapore to provide eye-opening insights into their trials and tribulations, while Alfian Sa’at’s GRC (Geng Rebut Cabinet) unearths some uncomfortable truths in a topsy-turvy political landscape in which Malays form the majority of the population.

Tickets are already available on SISTIC with 7 out of 8 plays priced at $40 or lower. Festival passes and concession tickets are also available. Be sure to buy your tickets early to avoid disappointment! See below for a brief description of the 8 plays featured during the festival. RW

1. HOTEL by W!LD RICE

Venue: The Singapore Airlines Theatre
Show Dates: 30 June – 24 July 2016
Ticket Prices: $80, $100 (click here to purchase tickets)

A hotel in Singapore is opened at the turn of the century, when the island is still a jewel in the British Crown. As Singapore morphs from British colony to Malaysian state to sovereign nation, its denizens experience profound and dramatic changes. We meet Indian mutineers, Cantonese nannies, Malay film stars, Japanese soldiers, transgender sex workers, wedding guests and suspected terrorists. They live out pivotal moments in their personal lives, even as empires die and new ones are born from their ashes.

A multi-generational epic that spans a century and unfolds in nine languages over five hours, HOTEL explores the notions of empire, nationhood, migration and identity against the backdrop of a shrinking world. Unanimously acclaimed as an instant classic and a five-star experience following its sold-out premiere at the 2015 Singapore International Festival of Arts, HOTEL is a ground-breaking theatrical event that highlights the eclectic energies born from the collisions between old and new, East and West, and tradition and modernity.

HOTEL was commissioned by the Singapore International Festival of Arts and produced in partnership with W!LD RICE. A single ticket permits entry to Part 1 (1915 – 1965) and Part 2 (1975 – 2015).

 

2. GEYLANG by W!LD RICE

Venue: Flexible Performance Space
Show Dates: 30 June – 3 July 2016
Ticket Price: $35 (click here to purchase tickets)

Step into the neon-lit lorongs of Geylang, where a happy ending is not what you think it is. In this wicked interplay of four stories, meet those who have lived, loved and lost in Geylang. A pair of star-crossed lovers defy the river and cultures that separate them. Mediums and mamasans prey on lost souls. A single mother struggles to keep up with the relentless march of progress. A gang leader is swept up in a maelstrom of drug-fuelled violence. A civil servant falls under the heady spell of nostalgia as an iconic hawker stall is forced to relocate – or close down for good.

A potent, exhilarating brew of history and fiction,Geylang looks for truth in the past, present and future of Singapore’s most colourful district. Sexy, funny and poignant, Geylang is an electrifying, thought-provoking showcase of new Singapore voices and talent. GEYLANG was created in collaboration with the third cohort of young & W!LD (2014-2015), W!LD RICE’s youth development division.

 

3. Double-Bill:
RIDERS KNOW WHEN IT’S GONNA RAIN by W!LD RICE
HAWA by Hatch Theatrics

Venue: Creative Cube
Show Dates: 30 June – 3 July 2016
Ticket Price: $35 (click here to purchase tickets)

Riders Know When It’s Gonna Rain is a coming-of-age story of friendship that blossoms in the little-known, frequently misunderstood mat moto subculture in Singapore. It captures the bright, reckless spirit of youth: from the desire to rebel and an addiction to danger, to the fierce loyalty that springs up between kindred spirits. When their adventures take an unexpected detour, the four childhood friends learn that the road to adulthood can be bumpy and treacherous.

Written with an insider’s intimate understanding of the culture and lingo of Singapore’s motorbiking community, Nessa Anwar’s tough, tender play is an affecting portrait of youths living in the fast lane. RIDERS KNOW WHEN IT’S GONNA RAIN was first commissioned for and performed at the 2015 Singapore Writers Festival, as part of Checkpoint Theatre’s ‘What I Love About You Is Your Attitude Problem’.

 

4. LET’S GET BACK TOGETHER by Red Pill Productions

Venue: Flexible Performance Space
Show Dates: 7 – 10 July 2016
Ticket Price: $35 (click here to purchase tickets)

What is it like to grow up different in a country where laws, morality and the media dictate what is normal? Who gets to determine what constitutes harassment and discrimination against minorities? Is Singapore society really as conservative as we’re often told it is? Can this country truly be a home for everyone, regardless of race, language, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity?

Based on frank, funny and sometimes fabulous interviews conducted with over 50 brave and inspiring individuals, Let’s Get Back Together is an original testimonial theatre piece exploring the realities that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face on a daily basis in Singapore. Even as the rest of the world begins to wake up to the idea that LGBT rights are human rights, Let’s Get Back Together sheds light on the trials and triumphs of these individuals as they grapple with issues of faith, identity and acceptance.

 

5. GRANDMOTHER TONGUE by W!LD RICE

Venue: Creative Cube
Show Dates: 7 – 10 July 2016
Ticket Price: $35 (click here to purchase tickets)

In a Singapore where dialects have been losing relevance for generations, Grandmother Tongue traces a young man’s struggle to connect with his 84-year-old Teochew-speaking grandmother. He teaches her to use a mobile phone. He helps her buy her favourite brand of soya sauce. He visits her in hospital after a fall. Along the way, he begins to understand just what it means to spend decades in linguistic and cultural exile.
Inspired by Kuo Pao Kun’s seminal Mama Looking For Her Cat, Thomas Lim’s funny, insightful play examines the social costs of our mother-tongue language policy and the erasure of dialects in today’s Singapore. In ways both humorous and heartbreaking, Grandmother Tongue explores how our identities are bound up with the languages that we use and the ones that we lose.

 

6. MY MOTHER BUYS CONDOMS by W!LD RICE

Venue: Creative Cube
Show Dates: 14 – 24 July 2016
Ticket Price: $40 (click here to purchase tickets)

Sex and star-crossed love are domains reserved for the young… aren’t they? That’s what Maggie, a retired school teacher, has always believed. But everything Maggie had come to assume and accept about her life changes when she agrees to teach Raju, an air-con repairman, how to read. As their relationship blossoms into an unconventional romance, those close to Maggie begin to question her behaviour, morals and choices. Nora, her best friend, claims that she no longer recognises her. Wilfred, her son, is outraged. Only Gwen, Maggie’s daughter, seems to understand, but she has secrets of her own.

A romantic comedy that puts a cheeky spin on active ageing, Helmi Yusof’s first play examines society’s attitudes towards sex and senior citizens. Inspiring and empowering, My Mother Buys Condoms challenges audiences to re-evaluate the freedom to love for those who may no longer be young in body, but remain young at heart. MY MOTHER BUYS CONDOMS was first developed for the TheatreWorks Writers Lab’s ‘Writing From The Heart’ programme in 2014.

7. GRC (GENG REBUT CABINET) by Teater Ekamatra

Venue: Flexible Performance Space
Show Dates: 14 – 24 July 2016
Ticket Price: $40 (click here to purchase tickets)

With elections around the corner, a political party is planning to field candidates in a five-member Group Representation Constituency. On the shortlist are a Minister, a Brigadier-General, a high-flying lawyer and a grassroots organiser. But the team is not complete without a minority candidate. This candidate has to be likeable. He or she has to be a respected member of the community. Most importantly, he or she has to be… Chinese.
GRC examines what it means to be part of a minority in a topsy-turvy farcical world where the disempowered now rule, and the invisible have their faces plastered everywhere – but only during campaign season. Who defines whether someone is a member of a minority? Who sets the standards for a ‘model minority’ and a ‘problem minority’? And is the country ready for a minority Prime Minister?

The O.P.E.N. 2016 – One Pass To See It All

The O.P.E.N. 2016 by Singapore International Festival of Arts grants visitors access to more than 40 arts programmes over 18 days – for only S$45.

There was an article published in The Straits Times last Monday titled Growing pains for Singapore art market. It is really not easy at all to be an artist or an art practitioner in Singapore when her arts climate is… not the most ideal, let’s put it that way. This also gives me a greater appreciation for the good work that the various art establishments are doing to boost the local arts scene.

Speaking of which, The O.P.E.N is back! The O.P.E.N. is Singapore International Festival of Arts‘s pre-festival of ideas to get people talking about the festival’s themes and issues before the main event that is SIFA (taking place from 11 August to 17 September 2016).  The O.P.E.N. was initiated by SIFA festival director Ong Keng Sen when he took over the reins of SIFA back in 2011 – thank you good sir.

After past themes like 2014’s Legacy and the Expanded Classic which looks at the past and 2015’s POST-Empires which looks at the present, this year’s The O.P.E.N. (and SIFA) will come full circle with the theme ‘Potentialities’ – looking into the future. This year’s pre-festival not only celebrates change agents from around the world, but also nudges and reminds visitors that we as individuals also have the same potentiality to be change-makers.

The O.P.E.N will take place from 22 June to 9 July 2016 and once again, for a flat rate of $45 entitles visitors to all of its programmes over 18 days (concession and single entry passes are also available). I’m really excited! Here are my top 10 picks for this year’s The O.P.E.N. RW

For more information on The O.P.E.N. click here. To buy your The O.P.E.N. pass, click here.

Editor’s note: Programmes’ descriptions and photos by SIFA. The theme ‘Potentialities’ was previously written as ‘Potentiality’. The error has since been corrected.

1. I Know Why The Rebel Sings

22 June, 7pm – 10pm (Opening day)
23 June through 9 July, Tue – Sat: 11am – 10pm ; Sun: 11am – 6pm; Closed on Mondays

Venue: 72-13

PHOTO & VIDEO EXHIBITION: I Know Why The Rebel Sings strikingly highlights the impressive range of Iranian photojournalist Newsha Tavakolian. Comprising photographs from her previous series, “Look”, “Listen” and “The Blank Pages Of An Iranian Photo Album”, this comprehensive showcase includes previously unexhibited images of humanitarian tragedies around the world. It highlights the continuum in Tavakolian’s oeuvre, from art to photojournalism. With a focus on the portrait, these two genres are scintillatingly in conversation in her work.

Tavakolian’s talent for making the inner worlds of her subjects come alive is seen in her “Look” series. It captures the people in her building, each individual framed by a window and the detritus of everyday living. Her work refuses to fall into the clichés of expressing Iran today. Instead she gives complexity to these ordinary lives without resorting to narratives of oppression and freedom. This theme is continued in “The Blank Pages Of An Iranian Photo Album”, in which she follows her peers through video portraits and photo albums from their daily lives.

2. Remember 30 Years To Live 65 Minutes

SEO

30 June, 8pm (1hr 30mins, no intermission)

Venue: Drama Centre Black Box

PERFORMANCE: As an artist, how much of your life are you willing to share with your audience? “For eight years I’ve been trying to finish this play,” Marina Otero states. “This is yet another sketch of that incomplete, endless play. It’s made with parts of an old play, confused memories, past lovers and other things I already killed. I now open the doors to show those misplaced secrets, the archived documents, stolen pictures, and my first 30 years reassembled.” See Otero as a child, a teenager, a woman. See her as a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend. Then – a dancer, an actress, a playwright. Yet the query is posed, haunting, teasing: how much did she remember and how much did she invent? Weigh those questions against the undeniable honesty in Remember 30 Years To Live 65 Minutes. Otero’s mashup performance reveals a woman stripped bare, dealing with raw emotions, fighting her demons and struggling to find meaning in this affecting play about her own life.

3. Archaeology of the Final Decade

28 June, 7.30pm (1hr 15mins (inclusive of Q&A))

Venue: 72-13

LECTURE: What is the potentiality of archives for the future? Explore Iran’s rich yet lesser-known artistic past with London-based curator Vali Mahlouji, who is a writer and adviser to the British Museum. Mahlouji founded Archaeology Of The Final Decade, a curatorial and research platform that brings back to life art and culture buried under revolution and social change.

In this enlightening lecture, Mahlouji explores Iran’s cultural legacies now lost by the chaos of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. With meticulous passion and investigative energy, he dissects these ideas through the use of two cultural reference points. The first is Iran’s “Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis” that ran from 1967 to 1977, a theatre, dance and music showcase with a unique focus on Asia and Africa. Black-and-white snapshots of this arts and cultural extravaganza reveal a rich diversity and cosmopolitan sophistication not often associated with the country. The second is the seminal photographic series, “Prostitute”, by Iranian photographer Kaveh Golestan. These haunting images of women from the red-light ghetto of Citadel of Shahr-e No represent an underbelly deliberately annihilated. The Citadel went up in flames as the revolution unfolded. Many survivors were imprisoned or culturally ‘reformed’; some were sentenced to death. What are the lasting ramifications when huge chunks of cultural memory are brutally erased?

What is the best way to reintroduce lost objects into the public domain, stimulate healthy discourse and encourage reconciliation? Join Mahlouji as he confronts these thorny issues of memory, history and reintegration that have lasting resonance for us all.

4. Riding On A Cloud

SEO

23 June, 8pm

Venue: 72-13 (1h 05min, no intermission)

PERFORMANCE: The brilliant performance auteur Rabih Mroué’s younger brother was shot in Beirut in 1987, as the Lebanese civil war was winding down. Although the 17-year-old Yasser did not die, the sniper’s bullet pierced his skull and caused partial paralysis and aphasia – the loss of the ability to understand and express speech.

It was this seminal moment that gave birth to Riding On A Cloud so many years later. This mixed-media theatre piece blurs the line between fact and fiction, reality and imagination, truth and subjective perspective, especially with Yasser himself at the centre as the sole performer.

Yasser as victim in a political struggle that riveted the world for decades, Yasser as actor in a fictionalised narrative, Yasser as a character invented by Mroué’s imagination, Yasser as victor in his struggle with language and meaning.

Through the flickering images on stage, the video clips and disjointed fragments of music, Mroué plumbs depth and meaning in shifting narratives, explores possibilities for a post-war Lebanon and, more universally, strikes the chords of memory, representation and the elusive search for truth in all of us.

5. Ibsen: Ghosts

SEO

8 July, 8pm

Venue: SOTA Studio Theatre (1hr 40min, no intermission)

PERFORMANCE: In Henrik Ibsen’s original “Ghosts”, the character Oswald asks his mother to help him commit suicide. It is this theme that German theatre collective Markus&Markus have chosen to focus on in their version of Ibsen: Ghosts. But don’t expect to see any acting. “We don’t want to see any more actors who pretend they want to die. So we cast a person who really wants to die as our Oswald,” explained the boundary-pushing group. With their radical political performances dissolving the lines between the stage and real life, this theatre company has been one to watch in Europe since 2011.

Markus&Markus find their own “Oswald” in 81-year-old Margot. She travels to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, to die on her own terms. They first meet her in April 2014, spending almost every day of the month with her. On May 1, they accompany her to an euthanasia organisation; they attend her funeral on May 22.

In Ibsen: Ghosts, Markus&Markus reanimate their deceased protagonist through videos, photos and letters. The work is a gut-wrenching and poignant reflection on life’s meaning. Does faithful documentation and ritual celebration of someone’s life ensure a kind of immortality? Maybe. As Margot says: “As long as my story is being told, I am not really dead.”

6. Homeland (Iraq Year Zero)

SEO

2 July3pm (Part 1) & 6pm (Part 2)

Venue: The Projector (334 min)

FILM: Iraqi filmmaker Abbas Fahdel’s Homeland is a richly detailed, unsentimental and yet, unexpectedly cheerful depiction of the everyday hardships in his own family over the one-and-a-half years before and after the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq.Before The Fall (Part 1) focuses on a group of Iraqis, mostly members of Fahdel’s own family, on their fears and expectations of the coming war. After The Battle (Part 2) picks up after the American invasion and shows its harrowing consequences on the characters. Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) won the Grand Prize at the Visions du Réel festival and Montreal International Documentary Festival, as well as the Award of Excellence and Citizens’ Prize at Yamagata International Documentary Festival.

7. A Syrian Love Story

SEO

1 July, 7.30pm

Venue: The Projector (76min)

FILM: Amer and Raghda met 15 years ago in a Syrian prison. They fell in love and, when released, got married. A Syrian Love Story tells the poignant tale of their family torn apart by the Syrian War. When British director Sean McAllister first meets them in 2009, Raghda is back in prison, leaving Amer to look after their four boys alone. But as the Arab Spring sweeps the region, their fate shifts irrevocably. Filmed over five years, the film charts their incredible odyssey to freedom. McAllister (“Liberace Of Baghdad”) received the Grand Jury prize at last year’s Sheffield Documentary Festival for this “Bergmanesque portrait of a relationship and love”.

8. Embrace Of The Serpent

SEO

3 July, 5pm

Venue: The Projector (123min)

FILM: Karamakate, a powerful Amazonian shaman, dwells in the jungle alone. Decades of solitude have turned him into a chullachaqui, an empty shell of a human, devoid of memories and emotion. His hollow life is shaken with the arrival of Evan, an American ethnobotanist searching for the sacred plant Yakruna, capable of teaching people how to dream. Together they embark on a journey into the Amazon in which past, present and future are intertwined, and in which Karamakate will begin to regain his lost memories. Since receiving the top Directors’ Fortnight prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Embrace Of The Serpent has continued to win acclaim, including an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film this year.

9. Invisible (Imbisibol)

SEO

6 July, 7.30pm

Venue: The Projector (132min)

This heart-wrenching film weaves together stories about undocumented Filipino workers supporting themselves and their loved ones in the Philippines with under-the-counter work in Japan. Middle-aged lovers Benjie and Edward fall for each other in Japan, but keep their love secret from their families. Ageing gigolo Manuel finds it difficult to make ends meet. The saintly Linda lives in Japan legally, but fights with her Japanese husband because she rents rooms to undocumented Filipinos.Imbisibol is directed by rising talent Lawrence Fajardo and produced by Cannes award-winning filmmaker Brillante Mendoza. It has swept seven awards, including prizes for Best Film and Best Director, at Sinag Maynila Film Festival before premiering at Toronto International Film Festival last year.

10. The Bacchus Lady

SEO

7 July, 7.30pm

VENUE: The Projector (110min)

Feisty 65-year-old So-young is a prostitute who approaches clients with Bacchus, a popular Korean energy drink and the offer of sex. With no savings or family, So-young is one of South Korea’s ‘Bacchus ladies’ – older women in South Korea who turn tricks to make a living. She meets little Min-ho and takes him in when his mother is detained by the police. The boy, who speaks only Tagalog, becomes kin to her, motivating her to work harder. When her disillusioned clients ask her for one last favour, So-young must decide whether she will help them. Never sordid or gratuitous, The Bacchus Lady tells a warm and humorous tale of South Korea’s controversial problem of senior prostitution.

SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS 2016
The O.P.E.N

Multiple Locations

Opens 22 June to 9 July 2016

A pre-festival of ideas, The O.P.E.N. is a public engagement initiative from the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) that offers 18 days of exploration. It raises fascinating questions and offers eye-opening insights about our world and humanity.

The O.P.E.N. connects you with SIFA four weeks before the opening of the Festival. It directs you to consider a breadth of issues and perspectives inspired by SIFA’s annual festival theme. Styled as a popular academy, it presents a curated selection of events through diverse platforms.

Ticket Pricing: $10 (Single entry), $25 (Concession pass), $45 (All programmes pass)

Web Link: The O.P.E.N.

Affordable Art Fair: A Peculiar Exhibition

Interesting, and otherwise unusual artworks can all be found in the 2016 Spring Edition of Affordable Art Fair.

Held once again at the F1 Pit Building from 21 to 24 April, this year’s Affordable Art Fair showcases an assortment of artworks from 41 local and international galleries representing 300 artists.

As with past year’s theme, the objective of the biannual exhibition was to make contemporary art accessible to the general public. Find artworks from paintings and sculptures to photography priced between S$100 to S$10,000. Also in line with this is the popular Charity Feature Wall ‘Let Art Speak’ which showcases artworks priced at S$500 – half of the monies raised goes to charity partner Woodbridge Hospital Charity Fund. Catering to both the young and old, there are plenty of art tours for the adults and hands-on workshops for the little ones.

Despite just returning from an overseas trip on Saturday and nursing a [really] bad cough, I decided to head down to review Affordable Art Fair on the last day nevertheless (hence, I was not in top form when visiting the exhibition).

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A visitor admiring an artwork by Bui Van Hoan.

I love this oil-on-canvas paintings (~S$7,000) by Vietnamese artist Bui Van Hoan (above). There does not seem to be anything going on in the painting above but if you look closer, you can see Bui’s subject (a fisherman) subtly placed in the background. According to Bui’s bio published by representing gallery ArtBlue Studio, Bui’s work is inspired by his serene and peaceful approach to life, often referred to in Vietnamese as ‘Thien’, roughly translated as a particular Vietnamese school of Zen Buddhism.

 

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PHOTO: AAF | Visitors getting introduced to Gary Pereira’s artwork

Why wouldn’t anyone want to glaze out into beautiful landscapes? English artist Gary Pereira makes this possible, transporting us to his hometown in Norwich England through his ‘window’ paintings. Pereira is inspired from the waves and dunes of his native Norfolk coast. Pereira is represented by UK-based gallery Quantum Contemporary Art and is priced around S$3,000.

 

PHOTO: Pagesdigital.com | ‘Asphyxiate’ | Photograph on Print | Ted O’Donnell & Nicki Lee

Australian artists Ted O’Donnell and Nicki Lee prove that two is indeed better than one through this utterly gorgeous photography series ‘Asphyxiate’. A collaborative piece between the two, Lee dons the flowers in colours and emotions while O’Donnell captures that in one single shot – no retakes as I was told by O’Donnell. Obsessed with the rhythmic movement of nature and passion, the two were first inspired by Robert Browning romantic-tragic poem,  ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. Interestingly, the two lovers first met at a organic fruit and vegetable store in Spring 2011. Comes in editions of 10 or 20, and priced at approximately S$2,500.

PHOTO: Barnabashuang.com | ‘Wilton’ | Acrylic on Canvas | Monica Dixon

I love this simple painting that exudes serenity by American artist Monica Dixon. Dixon is represented by Singapore based art gallery, Barnabas Huang.

In my opinion, the most important mindset an art buyer should bring to an exhibition is that of whether we like the painting, and whether we are comfortable with these paintings as decorative pieces in our homes. Every art connoisseur and expert agree that we should never buy art sorely for the potential investment value, or simply because we were intrigued by it at the whim of the moment.

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PHOTO: AAF | Featured artist, Max Zorn creates stunning lightbox artworks using nothing but packing tapes and a scalpel.

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PHOTO: AAF | A great place to see beautiful people.. I mean art.

That said, I do question AAF’s curatorial direction. While there are some interesting artworks exhibited, it is puzzling how some artworks actually make the cut to exhibit at the AAF to begin with. Some of the artworks go from peculiar to downright awful. I cannot imagine people putting [some of these] artworks in their homes. Similarly, I was not very impressed by the artworks presented at the Charity Feature Wall (S$500 artworks) – but it could also be because the nicer artworks have previously been snapped up by art buyers.

Maybe I am not sophisticated enough to appreciate the exquisiteness of these artworks, but I do feel that the AAF curatorial team should step up a notch in the choosing of galleries and artworks to be represented here. After all, visitors may flock to AAF to find affordable artworks, they should not have the feeling that the artworks presented are in any way substandard to the likes of bigger art shows like Art Stage and Singapore Contemporary Art Show (see my review here).

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PHOTO: AAF | Fun art tours for the children

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PHOTO: AAF | Art buying starts early for this young one.

 

Amazingly, I was told by AAF insiders that some of these questionable artworks were bought up by art buyers very quickly. Well, whatever rocks your boat.

Overall, I do feel that AAF is a good place for new art enthusiasts to get acquainted with art and to understand the various art forms that they either like or dislike. Art collectors may also find one or two artworks that they fancy. Because of its ‘affordable’ branding, artworks found at the AAF are generally cheaper than those exhibited at other Singapore art fairs. But don’t write off a visit to AAF just yet, you might just unearth an exquisite piece of art there. RW

Disclaimer: Reuel Writes attended the Affordable Art Fair on media pass. However, Reuel Writes retains full editorial direction of this blog entry.

2016 Prudential Eye Awards Review

 

PHOTO: Courtesy of ArtScience Museum | Artificial Theater-The Leader (2011-2014) | Photo Rag | Photography (Finalist) | Zhang Wei

The 3rd edition of the annual awards is centered around the issues of industralisation and globalisation.

Held at the ArtScience Museum, the 2016 Prudential Eye Awards which runs from 16 January to 27 March 2016 is part of the Global Prudential Eye Programme and a key highlight of Singapore Art Week. The awards enable the work of emerging Asian artists to reach audiences and receive international exposure.

15 Asian artists were shortlisted to present their art in the categories; Digital/Video, Installation, Painting, Photography and Sculpture. Awards were presented to winners of each category and overall best emerging artist on 19 January 2016.

Prudential Eye Awards should not be confused with last year’s Prudential Singapore Eye exhibition. While both are under the Prudential Eye Programme, the latter was [probably] a one-off major exhibition focused on Singapore’s art scene and her local artists.

My Review

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Prudential Eye Awards | Metal Graves 1 (2009) | Photographic print on archival fine art paper | Photography (Winning Entry) | Shumon Ahmed

Before the infamous Bangladesh ship-breaking exposé by National Geographic, Shumon Ahmed is. The Dhaka-based artist explores the modern metropolis he calls home through the fusion of video, photography and text in this photography series. While the country surges ahead to keep up with the world’s economy, there are locals involved in backbreaking and dangerous underpaid jobs such as ship-breaking. These people are also compensated with the bare minimum, thus trapped in a vicious poverty cycle.

Head slide zhang wei artificial theater big star marilyn monroe brosnan

PHOTO: Courtesy of Prudential Eye Awards | Artifical Theater-Big Star, Marilyn Monroe (2014) | Photo Rag | Photography (Finalist) | Zhang Wei

Russian president Vladimir Putin posing for a photo? The late Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn captured on camera? Nope, there are probably several dozen individuals [facial features] represented here. No doubt one of the more striking exhibit, Artificial Theater is the work of Chinese artist Zhang Wei. Zhang assembled and collaged the parts of the real ordinary performers’ bodies using ‘more than 300 ordinary Chinese faces’ which he has collected in the past. Yet while every ‘performer’ plays his or her role in this virtual portrait, Zhang calls it ‘superficial, temporary, or even meaningless’.

Head slide svay sareth warning house 2013 ongoing found materials dimensions variable

PHOTO: Courtesy of Prudential Eye Awards | Warning House (2013-Ongoing) | Found Objects | Sculpture (Winning Entry) | Sareth Svay

How Cambodian artist Sareth Svay was introduced to art was rather interesting. Whilst taking refuge in a refugee camp, Svay met a French volunteer who was teaching the art subject. The rest is history as they say. Recounting his [country’s] past and subtly challenging political ideologies in his art, Svay constructs a structure made entirely of local found objects. Suffice to say, the ‘house’ in each exhibition is different depending on the found materials available.

Head slide manish nai billboard series  number 4  epson enhanced matt  ultra chrome k3  size 36 h x 34.5 w inch  edition number 2 3

PHOTO: Courtesy of Prudential Eye Awards | Untitled, Billboard Series, Number-4, Edition Number- 2_3 (2014) | Epson Enhanced Matt, Ultra Chrome | Painting (Winning entry) | Manish Nai

Mumbai is India’s most populated city and is also home to the most number of millionaires and billionaires in the Motherland. Billboards of all sorts of dimensions are literally everywhere as companies fight for a share of the consumer pie. But Indian artist Manish Nai is more interested in the billboards in their ‘downtime’, contemplating his country’s current state of socio-economic progress in that process.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Prudential Eye Awards | Letters from Panduranga (2015) | Video (Winning Entry) | Trinh Thi Nguyen

The essay film, made in the form of a letter exchange between two filmmakers, was inspired by the fact that the Vietnamese government is to build Vietnam’s first two nuclear power plants in Ninh Thuan, right at the spiritual heart of the Cham people, threatening the survival of this ancient matriarchal Hindu culture that stretches back almost two thousand years. The film also reflects on the legacy of war and on-going colonialisms; and landscape and portrait, documentary and fiction, art and ethnography, as methods of working and their limitations in accessing the other cultures, peoples, experiences, as well as history and the past. (Artist statement)

Honestly, I was expecting a little more from the exhibition. While these works are representative of the artists’ ideals and to that of their country, I found it difficult to connect with the artworks. Perhaps I was looking to be ‘wowed’ by the ‘edginess’ of the artworks, or to be primed emotionally to connect with the art and their underlying stories. Neither happened and I found it a tough sell to give this exhibition a two thumbs up.

Of course, the exhibits presented here are not really commercial in nature, but I left the exhibition whilst found wanting. Interestingly, those thoughts led me to a few questions of my own.

Should we attend an exhibition with the intent to connect, to sympathise – or even to pity – with the artist and their country of origins – assuming their art explores local themes and issues?

If so, what should be the outcome? A change in attitude towards the said? Or taking some form of action? Or more often than not, status quo?

Are those feelings and thoughts superfluous, hypocritical and/or exploitative?

Must contemporary art have ‘shock value’ in order to ascertain its worth as a contemporary work of art?

In any case, I thought that Prudential Eye Awards was definitely an eye-opener and worth a visit. Be sure to take your time to go through this rather cozy exhibition. Maybe you might find something that I missed. RW

PRUDENTIAL EYE AWARDS EXHIBITION

ArtScience Museum

Opens 16 January to 27 March 2016

The Prudential Eye Awards return to Singapore for a third edition. The annual Awards celebrate emerging contemporary artists from across Greater Asia and highlight the breadth, range and diversity of the works created by these artists. This year’s 15 featured artists include Singapore finalist Robert Zhao in the category of Best Emerging Artist Using Photography. The Awards Ceremony will take place on 19 January, while the accompanying exhibition will run until 27 March.

Ticket Pricing: $12 / $8 (Local adults)

Web Link: Prudential Eye Awards Exhibition

Disclaimer: Reuel Writes attended the Singapore Contemporary Art Show on media pass. However, Reuel Writes retains full editorial direction of this blog entry.