Essay on art and politics in Singapore

A rather long essay written anonymously and posted on an anonymous blog. It is an academic paper possibly at a Master’s or PhD level with numerous references to the local literature on the arts in Singapore as well as Western philosophical theories mainly on the politics of aesthetics. The events narrated in the essay are seminal in the short history of Singapore’s art scene – the wood block prints in support of Communism, Kuo Bao Kun’s long incarceration and paradigmatic shift in his artistic practice after his release, the founding of the Artist Village, Josef Ng sniping his pubic hair in public that lead to a twenty year de facto ban on performance art, the Arts Community email community and establishment of an Arts NMP role in Parliament etc.

After reading this paper, one gets a sense of how the arts have been subsumed by state ideologies, whether towards fostering a nationalistic identity or being instrumentalised into the market economy. The space between the production of art and its intervention in the political sphere is a site of constant tension and negotiation between artists and the state. Artists are constantly testing the out of bounds markers and are always at the forefront of censorship controversies while finding new ways to express their art.

The role of art as a means of challenging existing social norms and behaviour by altering mass perception has always been a role that is violently suppressed by the Singaporean government. Art is thus de-politicised and tamed. The role of art for art’s sake, whereby the aesthetic value of art is prized as a means and end in itself in the appreciation of art, is thus often supported by state means, stripped away of political content or social commentary.

Artists thus have little space in Singapore to be vocal about issues concerning social justice. The author ends his essay on an optimistic note that things will change, mentioning an art show on a vision of post-2010 without LKY – the man who has single-handedly abolished all opposition to PAP rule since Singapore’s Independence.

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