Monkey Goes West: Embark On The Happiest & Funniest Journey To (Jurong) West

Back to entertain audiences this festive season is arguably W!LD RICE’s most popular pantomime based on the famous Chinese literary classic.

“Monkey goes West, he must go to serve his sentence…” I left the theatre humming the infectious theme song of Monkey Goes West. Damn earworm! The award-winning play by W!LD RICE returns for a limited run at the Drama Centre Theatre from 18 November to 17 December 2016. Monkey Goes West is directed by Broadway Beng Sebastian Tan, written by Alfian Sa’at, with music composed by Elaine Chan.

First performed to a sold-out audience back in 2014, the pantomime dominated the Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards and took home Production of the Year award amongst a few other awards. The pantomime follows the journey of present-time orphan Ah Tang (reprised by Joshua Lim) who runs away from home and finds himself transported to the mysterious land where dangers abounds.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

As is the tradition for all WILD R!CE’s pantomime, the show opens with over-the-top song and dance, and spectacular set of heaven featuring its four golden dragon pillars. Fast forward to the present, we learn that Ah Tang is frustrated with his Uncle Mu (Darius Tan) and English-butchering Auntie (reprised by Chua Enlai) for their obsession over their talented medal-winning daughter (Kimberly Tan) and for seemingly forgetting his mother’s dead anniversary.

Deciding to reminisce the good times with his mother, Ah Tang visits Haw Par Villa and falls asleep there. Who would have a ‘good time’ in ‘hell’? Anyway, Ah Tang finds himself trapped after overstaying past the park’s visiting hours, further soliciting for help from the audience.

Forced to embrace his mistaken identity as Tang Seng the monk, Ah Tang travels with his companions, Wukong (reprised by Sugie Chua), Pigsy (reprised by Siti Khalijah Zainal) and Sandy (reprised by Frances Lee), the quartet goes on a hilarious adventure to Jurong West where they learn the importance of teamwork and family.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

What makes Monkey Goes West so fun to watch (and rewatch) is in its ability to entertain and delight audiences no matter how young or old you are. W!LD RICE resident playwright Alfian Sa’at is a master in his field; weaving in cheeky banters and ‘yo mama jokes’ for the kids, and throwing in – and updating – humourous and politically incorrect jokes which only the adults would be tickled by in the mix. I will not spoil the fun by revealing any of the jokes!

Undoubtedly one of Singapore’s most talented music composers, Elaine Chan incorporates Chinese musical instruments into the pantomime’s popular hit songs such as Monkey Goes West the main theme song, and Master of Disguise. I guarantee that you will leave humming the tunes like I did. The show was obviously created to impress, with its magnificent set and gorgeous costumes once again designed by Wong Chee Wai and Thailand’s Tube Gallery respectively.

It’s also hard to believe that the entire production only stars seven adult actors. Joshua entertains as Ah Tang and solicits crowd response from the children, while Siti puts comedic magic in every role she lands and as both butt-shaking Sandy and Guan Yin Ma in the case of Monkey Goes West. FIRST STAGE! Alumni Kimberly whose character performs a entertaining Flamenco (or Flamingo as termed by Enlai’s character) number on stage is the shining example of the success of W!LD RICE’s grooming programme. The programme has trained more than 250 children, providing them with firsthand experiences of acting on a professional stage alongside established actors.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

Enlai is the king of comedy, entertaining the crowd as Iron Fan Princess and Aunty Fanny who butchers the English language exchanging words like ‘sensation’ for ‘menstruation’, ‘ovation’ for ‘ovulation’. Autny Fanny will also ‘zao geng’ a handful of times in the show – disturbing but hilarious! The FIRST STAGE! kids also entertained with their surprising Wushu techniques, trained by Gordon Choy. Everyone were on-point in their roles but in the end, the one who stole the show had to be Sugie as the mischevious legendary Monkey King with his acrobatics and engaging performance.

Laughing almost from start to end of the musical, I found it hard to part ways with the beloved characters at the end. W!LD RICE’s 13th pantomime, Monkey Goes West is the perfect example of pantomimes done right, even if it was centred around a Eastern classic. I love, love, love it. Many thanks to W!LD RICE and partners for the invitation to Monkey Goes West Gala Night. It was so fun and I wouldn’t have spent my Saturday any other way. Bring your kids, your parents and your friends to catch Monkey Goes West quick before tickets sell out!

Afternoon matinees are available on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Monkey Goes West

Drama Centre Theatre

Opens 18 November to 17 December 2016

W!LD RICE brings the Year of the Monkey to a happy climax with its 13th holiday musical extravaganza for the whole family! Winner of ‘Production of the Year’ at the 2015 Straits Times Life Theatre Awards, Monkey Goes West is an affectionate and cheeky retelling of the beloved Chinese fantasy classic. Join us for an epic thrill ride that will take you from Haw Par Villa to Jurong West – by way of a colourful world filled with mythical monsters and naughty fairies.

Ticket Pricing: $45 – $80

Web Link: Monkey Goes West

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.

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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

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.

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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.

LGBT: A Peek Into The Thought Life Of The Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders

The Red Pill Production play delves into the world of the LGBT, asking the question – what if we accept them into mainstream society?

A play about LGBT? Same gender kissing live? (Sorry Les Misérables) In Singapore? What audacity! Trust W!LD RICE to pioneer such an audacious production (Laughs). Produced by RED Pill Production, Let’s Get Back Together (LGBT) is part of the 8-play lineup in this year’s Singapore Theatre Festival organised by W!LD RICE.

But before that, I’m damn excited to be reviewing a play that The Straits Times and all the other state news medias aren’t covering on la (Laughs).

The 2016 performance piece looks into the topic of the said title and is a performance made from the culmination of interviews with 50 individuals from the LGBT community. LGBT is written by playwrights Mark Ng and Kenneth Chia and stars Ezzat Alkaff, Ann Lek, Ruzaini Mazani, Eleanor Tan, Jo Tan and Zachary Ibrahim – all of whom are heterosexuals (not ironic, will explain later).

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

The play opens with a video excerpt of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s 4 June 2015 speech addressing the public that Singapore is a conservative country who is not ready to embrace the LGBT community (Amazing how they even got this approved by MDA). It was followed by interviews from members of public all of whom expressed their disapproval of the LGBT community. Following that, the six characters walks into the simple set holding labels that indicate their sexual preferences. One has to remember that much of the words uttered in the play are those from actual Singaporean LGBT.

In the first chapter of sorts, the characters went through an identity crisis in their adolescences as they struggle to live up to their roles as determined by their families and the society-at-large. The director cleverly used an actor and actress to mirror each other’s movements and words even as the both of them identified with the opposite gender. In another scene, the conflicted character asks her mother if she married her father for love or for children to which the latter replied “For children” put of spite.

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Ibrahim’s character who sounded out the injustice of perception, people being okay with LGBT in theatre but not in reality | PHOTO: W!LD RICE

“Why are you asking me if I’m gay? I’m gay simply because I’m gay la. Why are you straight?”
– Quote from LGBT play

There was no room for a breather as the play continued to deliver punchlines after punchlines highlighting the prejudices, discrimination and struggles of being a member of the LGBT community in Singapore.

“WHY CAN WE LET THEM HAVE OUR KIDS?” In this scene, Jo Tan’s character (a speaker in the We Are Against Pink Dot Group) delivered a fiery (actual) speech on the diabolical consequences of allowing LGBT to push their homosexual agenda – thus begging the question, is the desire to love [in spite of the other party being the same gender] such a diabolical crime that warrants such extremism?

The second half of the play could be said to be devoted to the topic of religion. In one scene, Ann Lek’s character (a Lesbian churchgoer) was confronted by her pastor for being a ‘stumbling rock‘. The term is often used to describe Christians whose behaviours caused other Christians to ‘fall out of the faith’. Mazani’s character explains that it is not the Christian God, but Christians who caused him grief as the former continued to struggle with the identity crisis and persecution [by members of the faith] before finding healing after leaving church.

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Ann Lek’s character confronted by her pastor whom she reverred | PHOTO: W!LD RICE

Reaching a climax, the characters of the play revealed that none of them chose to be that way. Mazani’s character laments to God for making him this way, asking “Aren’t we all not God’s children?” Ibrahim’s character (a divorcee who identifies as a transgender) explained that he loved his wife and children but felt that living the former life of pretense was eating him from the inside out.

As the play came to a close, actual photographs of members of the LGBT community (including W!LD RICE artistic director Ivan Heng and his partner) and their loved ones who came to accept the former for who they are appeared on the screen, telling us that being a LGBT is not divisive in nature, but can even be accepted by ‘conservative’ Singaporeans as evidenced in the photographic testimonies. Hence the title ‘Let’s Get Back Together‘. The play ends with the characters holding up labels not of their sexuality, but of their characters as they sang the lyrics “Love is patient, love is kind” – a frequently quoted verse about love from 1 Corinthians 13 in the bible.

In the post-play dialogue, transgender activist and founder of Singapore’s first home for transgenders June Chua revealed that LGBTs are not allowed to act out their character on television and in theatre, which is really sad since it only leads to the continued rift and lack of understanding by the general public on the LGBT community. I do applaud the six characters for bringing out their characters to life despite not identifying with the characters’ sexual preferences.

Having no prior exposure to the LGBT topic, understanding the underlying themes as well as its overt messages (which were screaming at me) was an enlightening experience for me. LGBT was a dynamic and touching play which seek to tell us that in the essence of it all, the LGBT community do not want to propagate the ‘LGBT right’ but the human right – to love even if the interpretation of ‘love’ is different from the mainstream belief system.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

As a Christian, the addressing of the LGBT topic was a difficult one for me, but I [kind of] agree with Alkaff’s character who challenged that God does not heal same sex problems, but the reasons that led to these problems. But what if some people were just born with an extra/lacking chromosomes?

While I agree with the points brought up by the play on so many levels, could the acceptance and embracing of the LGBT idea (notice I did not use the word ‘agenda’) result in the proliferation and even further propagation of LGBT lifestyle as a nominal way of life which could have societal and cultural consequences? I am not saying that the desire to love is wrong, but there are always repercussions, isn’t it?

To that end, I do not have any answer. But I would have hoped that LGBT play explored the topic from both sides of the camp, thus giving a more holistic perspective to the matter rather than a rather one-sided view, which could perhaps lead to greater acceptance and understanding of the LGBT topic by the general public.

One of the points that I found hilarious was Ibrahim’s character bringing up the belief that there are not enough straight couples to adopt orphans. That school of thought is a house of cards which lacked depth since there are also widespread belief that children raised in a LGBT family could have identity issues and other problems in their later years.

In summary, I thought that Let’s Get Back Together is a very important theatre piece in the understanding of the LGBT and their endeavours. More can and should be done for the LGBT who are often marginalised, misunderstood and condemned. The Christian community should also exemplify their belief of what it means to ‘love people unconditionally’, for the act of judgment should be left to God and not by men.

Sadly, LGBT runs till 11 July 2016. But members of the public who wishes to watch and explore other controversial themes can purchase tickets to the remaining two plays in the Singapore Theatre Festival lineup below. RW

 

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.

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?

 

 

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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

Singapore Contemporary Art Show: Inaugural Edition Review

PHOTO: Courtesy of Fabrik Gallery | ‘The Paradox of Beauty’ | Oil on canvas | Myoung Jo Jeong

Singapore Contemporary Art Show made its debut in Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre.

No, there aren’t any cockroaches or rhino installations here. But there’s Andy Warhol, Yayoi Kusama, and a whole ensemble of some of Asia’s most talented artists represented here. New kid on the block, Singapore Contemporary Art Show is no greenhorn. Having run 7 successful shows in Hong Kong, their inaugural Singapore edition themed ‘A World of Art’ presents more than 3,000 artworks and art installations from 65 exhibitors and artists.

Showcasing quality contemporary artworks and installations of successful established artists, as well as works from some of today’s most promising emerging artists in the lacking mid-tier art market, visitors can expect to find works ranging from S$10,000 to S$100,000 and up. Tickets were priced at S$30 for single day and S$54 for a three-day pass.

Despite taking place alongside Singapore Art Week anchor Art Stage Singapore and a pre-show controversy, Singapore Contemporary Art Show attracted a respectable number of attendees – more than 16,000 visitors visited over four days (The Straits Times, 26 Jan 2016).

Reuelwrites got into the thick of the action and discovered that Singapore Contemporary Art Show is more than just ‘another art exhibition’.

Artworks

Artworks by Asian artists made up about 70% of the exhibits at the show, this arrangement probably owing to its parent show, the Asian Contemporary Art Show in Hong Kong. Art enthusiasts who have walked the ground in other art exhibitions would have found some familiar faces (galleries) participating in this year’s show.

In spite of this, there is a rich diversity in the artworks curated and there’s something for everyone. More than once I found myself impressed and even captivated by some of the artworks presented at the show. Below are some of the works that caught my eye.

The Paradox of Beauty #13-04

PHOTO: Courtesy of Singapore Contemporary Art Show | The Paradox of Beauty | Oil on canvas | Myoung Jo Jeong

I am a big fan of hyperrealism paintings and why South Korean artist Myoung Jo Jeong wasn’t in my radar is beyond me. Even though it wasn’t the most expensive artwork (approximately S$38,000), Myoung Jo Jeong’s artwork (the first image in the blog) left me with the deepest impression.

I absolutely love Myoung’s idea of capturing the beauty of his subject from the ‘back’. While beauty in realism is often expressed through the subject’s facial features, I like that Myoung’s painting transcended popular conventions. I can imagine this being the show piece at the dining room in my house. Represented by Fabrik Gallery, Hong Kong.

V.Host

PHOTO: Courtesy of Singapore Contemporary Art Show | V.Host (2013) | Acrylic on canvas | Wang Min

Morbid, dystopia, and indifference. These are the words one could use to describe China artist Wang Min’s works. Step into Wang Min’s imagination of humankind’s not so distant future where cloning is a norm and we become homogeneous as a species.

For this rather depressing artwork, I was told by the gallery representative that the artist was quite the opposite. Definitely a striking piece although I can’t imagine seeing this anywhere in someone’s home. Represented by The Dragon Year Gallery, China.

Inner Wisdom

PHOTO: Courtesy of Singapore Contemporary Art Show | Inner Wisdom | Acrylic on linen | Simon Wee

Traditional Chinese calligraphic art is very underrated. I love this artwork by our very own Singaporean artist, Simon Wee. It’s not just a mere stroke of the brush. Trained by master painter Chen Wen Hsi himself, Wee’s work exudes unrivalled strength and energy.

I remember accepting a consignment of Wee’s ink on rice paper paintings and having such a hard time convincing people to purchase it. It’s one of those artworks that’s perfect for the office and Wee deserves more credit. Represented by Tembusu Art Gallery, Singapore.

March

PHOTO: Courtesy of Singapore Contemporary Art Show | March (2015) | Oil on canvas | Zorikto Dorzhiev

Back when I was working in an art gallery, one of my big ticket sale was an artwork by the young established artist, Zorikto Dorzhiev. Was delighted to find his artwork exhibited in the art show. Represented by Khankhalaev Gallery, Russia.

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Acrylic on canvas artworks by South Korean artist, Yoo Sun-Tai

What many people don’t realise is that art doesn’t just improve the aesthetics of one’s home, they can also create conversations. Such is the surrealism artworks by South Korean artist, Yoo Sun-Tai. Back in my gallery days, Yoo’s artworks were the crowd favourites. Represented by Galerie GAIA, South Korea.

Tours and Activities

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Complimentary art tours are available for art enthusiasts and members of the public.

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Indonesian artist Awiki doing a live painting.

Hats off to the entire Singapore Contemporary Art Show team for putting up such a pleasant, family-oriented show. There are so many activities going on for the four-day art show to which all guests and ticket holders get to enjoy. Get up to speed with the rising stars in the arts world by joining the many art tours, or get inspired by live painting demonstrations by the artists.

Visitors with children could also sign up for the complimentary kids art tours and art studio workshops.

Meet the Artists

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UK artist Jeff Murray introducing his artwork to members of the public. Murray also

One of the things I enjoyed most about the art show was being up close and personal with the artists behind the artworks. Beyond simply enjoying the intricate paintings and sculptures, what completes an art show experience is hearing from the artists themselves on their inspirations and their stories, et cetera.

Singapore Contemporary Art Show trumps Art Stage in this regard. The art show – which took place at the spacious 6,000 sq/m Suntec Convention Centre – is not overcrowded and there are ample opportunities for members of the public to interact with the artists many of which are present at their booths.

Overall, to term the Singapore Contemporary Art Show experience as mere pleasant is an understatement. Singapore Contemporary Art Show is for the art collectors who wants to acquire more art but isn’t ready to move into the top-tier art market, and for art enthusiasts who value an enjoyable art expedition without being overwhelmed.

If you are feeling gutted for missing out on the show, mark it down on your calendar and don’t miss next year’s show. Singapore Contemporary Art Show will return with its 2nd edition on January 19 to 22, 2017. For more information, visit their website here. RW

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