[Interview] SIFA – the definitive Arts Festival

by Dominic Teo
June 5, 2015 by Dominic Teo

[Interview] SIFA – the definitive Arts Festival

In less than 2 weeks will be the launch of the O.P.E.N, Singapore International Festival of the Arts (SIFA’s) pre-festival events before the actual event itself in August. SIFA is basically an amalgamation of different genres of art, from photography to dance and even film among many others. Basically among the dozens of events & exhibitions being organized under the name of SIFA, there is definitely something for everyone. In anticipation for both the O.P.E.N as well as SIFA, we had a little chat with festival director Ong Keng Sen in order to find out what is it that you can look forward to.

Ong Keng Sen 2 (C) Jeannie Ho

Ong Keng Sen                Photo Credit: Jeannie Ho

Firstly, the question in everyone’s (including my) mind, what exactly is the different between the O.P.E.N & the actual SIFA so who better to ask than the festival director himself! According to Keng Sen, “The O.P.E.N. – Open, Participate, Enrich, Negotiate – is the public engagement initiative and pre-festival of ideas that connects the public to the themes and issues presented in SIFA. It is in fact an ‘academy’ or ‘school of life’ that is meant to encourage audiences to start thinking about and engaging with what POST-Empires means, even before the first curtain rises for SIFA in August.” A sort of warm-up to the actual event itself & an initiative to build up interest so that the audience will be in ‘perfect’ condition to enjoy the actual festival itself. This will be done “through the film screenings, performances, concerts, exhibitions and talks over the span of 18 days, as well as the carefully curated line-up of artists, speakers and thinkers, a visitor or participant will be challenged to respond by thinking about the various aspects of POST-Empires.”

What I find to be the most interesting is how specific the theme is , POST Empires so there is obviously a clear vision on the part of the organizers on what they hope to present through SIFA and what they want to achieve through SIFA. This year’s theme is part of a tetralogy of themes planned for 2014-2017, a continuation from last year’s theme of “Legacy and the Expanded Classic, which looked at the legacies of science, politics and society of the 20th century.” Thus, it is only appropriate for the journey to continue (by timeline) to post empires which actually constitutes an entire field of studies on its own – Post-colonialism which seeks to explain the cultural impact of colonialism, similar to what SIFA is hoping to achieve this year. “Emerging from the ‘empires’ of colonialism, dictatorship and communism, we now see a globalisation of life in an age that’s defined by global networks and monopolies of power.” It’s almost poetic that these questions are being asked in 2015 which is coincidentally the year of SG50 – the celebration of Singapore’s 50th year of independence. It is in this backdrop that SIFA “hope[s] the theme POST-Empires will get the public to question, “Are we really free, or is it only a virtual impression? Can we as individuals, go against any kind of ‘empire’ or ‘powers-to-be’, and be independent of the structures that have been set for us? How do we break free to chart our own destinies?”

Living Together 2_Jason Wong_zpslc9na1wq

Living Together             Photo Credit: Hoods Inc Productions Pte Ltd

From both SIFA and its pre-festival event the O.P.E.N, there are dozens of different events to attend and it’s frankly impossible to attend all of them so here’s a little insight on Keng Sen’s festival highlights! Keng Sen recommends 2 events that I assume to be an absolute can’t miss, “One noteworthy local production – which is free for all and specially staged to mark SG50 – is Living Together by local stand-up comedian, Kumar and a group of fellow comic collaborators. This multi-lingual production will be staged at void decks in the heartlands, and will touch on a range of HDB-styled issues, which audiences can easily identify with and laugh about. Another highlight is Open Homes, a collaboration with PassionArts, People’s Association, which will see the unorthodox staging of intimate theatre experiences right in the living rooms of regular Singaporeans.” Even if you are not too interested in SIFA, these are 2 events that you must attend!

Open Homes_Food without owners 2_PAssionArts_zpshrgeksko

Open Homes – Food Without Owners      Photo Credit: PAssionArts

The arts scene in Singapore is becoming increasingly saturated these days (which is both a boon & a bane) with a seemingly interminable number of festivals, musicals, films, performances, dance for your enjoyment every single week. However, simply from the scale of the event itself, you know SIFA will be different but beyond that “SIFA is unique because it is both Singaporean as well as international.” It is wholly and completely a celebration of Singaporean art and opinion in the 12 new local commissions this year (the biggest number thus far) that presents a Singaporean way of looking post-empires. It is also poetic that “in the light of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s recent passing, this theme now takes on even more significance, as post-LKY Singapore now is compelled more than before, to chart its own destiny moving forward.” SIFA is also unique in that it has the freedom and capacity to shoulder “the risk … [of] creating productions that cannot normally produce themselves,” thus those looking out for productions that are out there and a little weird will have their weird satisfied. However, SIFA is not only limited to looking a Singaporean lens but also presents an international opinion, after all we aren’t the only country emerging post empire.

I find the exploration of a life post-empire to be wholly fascinating and while the struggle is a phantasmic one, there is no greater struggle. It is a question of identity on the biggest scale, the identity of a country which is a struggle that Singapore is currently in the midst of evidenced by the constant exhortation on the lack of a Singaporean identity & culture. Establishing our own post-colonial identity and culture is the first step in our own individual struggle in crafting our own identity thus this discussion and continued exploration is one that is of utmost importance. While SIFA does not promise to provide you or Singapore with the answer to our identity, it is guaranteed to at least provoke some thought in you, guiding you in your own individual struggle & journey. For Keng Sen, a successful SIFA “would be able to tackle head-on the questions and issues we face as citizens of a larger world beyond the Nation, and to be able to pass on the legacy and heritage of those Archives to our future generations. How can we as human individuals transform established structures with tenderness to form different independent pathways?”

the O.P.E.N will last from 16 June to 4 July & SIFA will run from 6 August to 19 September and more information including event listing can be found on their website here!




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