Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Singapore Arts Diary

Mudflats at Batam. Guy's photo. My poem.

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Sun, July 17: Watched Helmi Yusof's play "My Mother Buys Condoms." A skilfully crafted play, the dialogue reminiscent of Singaporean English TV comedies. Then it sprang its "ambush," with its nice analogy between our unreasonable disgust with both elderly passion and same-sex love. Part of the Wild Rice Theater Festival at Lasalle.

Wed, July 20: Singapore Unbound: the Transgressions Reading, at Booktique, with me, Ovidia Yu, Cyril Wong, and Tania De Rozario. Good turnout. Festival alums Jason Erik Lundberg and Pooja Nansi came. Other writers too, including Leong Liew Geok, Robert Yeo, Ng Yi-Sheng, and Toh Hsien Min.

Thu, Jul 21: coffee with Dan Feng certainly counts as a cultural event. Great library in his place, with books on translation, politics, and philosophy, and rare Singapore books, including fake translations. Must make time to consult the last.

Sat, July 23: Watched The Obs: A Singapore Story at the Projector. Directed by Yeo Siew Hua, and produced by Adeline Setiawan and Dan Koh, the documentary traces the history of Singapore's most important independent band through seven increasingly dark albums, climaxing with Catacombs. The evolution from easy listening to the discovery of its own unique sound parallels, to my mind, the organic local development of devised theater as practiced by The Necessary Stage. Both groups were very open to outside influences but worked with a growing sense of artistic independence and mission. Leslie Low, the songwriter and singer, is clearly the creative force behind the band, whereas Vivian Wang, the synth player, takes charge of business. They formed the original band with Dharma, Victor Low, and Evan Tan.

In the evening we held the Justin Chin memorial reading at Artistry Cafe. For an intro, I read part of my essay on Justin. Then the readings, by Christian Chia (Bite Hard), Desmond Kon (Shampoo), Yeow Kai Chai (Mongrel), Cyril Wong (Harmless Medicine), O Thiam Chin (98 Wounds), Stephanie Dogfoot and Tse Hao Guang (Gutted), and Jason Wee reading a poem written in tribute to the Malaysian-born, Singapore-raised San Francisco poet, essayist, memoirist, and performance artist. Three of his ACS friends came, including Hossan Leong.

Sun, July 24: Watched Alfian Sa'at's 5-hour epic play Hotel with Sam Ng. A scene from each decade of Singapore's history, from 1910s to 2010s, all taking place in the same hotel room. The earlier (colonial) scenes were, in part, critiques of the current neo-colonial regime. The shooting of the Indian sepoy mutineers, for instance, evoked unpleasant echoes of the current discrimination against Indian and Bangladeshi guest workers. Characters and objects returned in later scenes, often to moving effect. There was a wonderful attempt to encompass the diversity of characters in the cast of Singapore history, from the English planter's wife to the mainland Chinese worker in the housekeeping department, from the Indian bellboy of yesterday year to the Brazilian chambermaid of today. The play was truly multi-layered and invited repeated watching and closer analysis.

Wed, July 27. Went to the National Gallery with Stewart Derwent. Most of the works were only of historical interest to me, but the works of Chen Wen Hsi and Georgette Chen were an exception. Pan Shou's calligraphy on display was magnificent.

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