Let's Look at the Festival Guide! The OPEN #1

Ng Yi-Sheng

April 22, 2016

TheatreWorks has a show going on this weekend, but since nobody offered me free tickets, I shall say nothing about the fact thatUnder the Volcano by Indonesian choreographer Bumi Purnati Indonesia is playing from 21 to 23 April. Absolutely nothing. ;)

Instead, I'll do my job and talk about upcoming shows, starting with events in The OPEN. I was kind of dismissive about this a year ago, because I dismissed this as a mini-festival, designed to lure people in to watch SIFA proper. 2015's experience, however, blew me away—some of the best bits of SIFA were in The OPEN.

So let's look at what's on show, shall we? And let's arrange it by theme instead of chronological order. 

Fact is, there's a lot of acts from the Muslim world:

I Know Why The Rebel Sings, by Newsha Takavolian
Photographic and video exhibition
2 Jun-9 Jul, 72-13
Artist Talk on 29 Jun, Conversation on 2 Jul

Newsha Takavolian's one of those people Keng Sen talked about, who aren't yet big stars but who're changing the world. She's capturing both the revolutionary and the everyday.

She got famous through her photojournalistic on the Iranian student uprising of 1999, plus humanitarian tragedies in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. But she's also obsessed with taking photos of ordinary Iranians—people in her building in her series "Look", Iranian women singers who aren't allowed to produce their own albums in "Listen"; peers of her generation in "The Blank Pages Of An Iranian Photo Album". War and peace.

Archaeology of the Final Decade, by Vali Mahlouji
28 June, 72-13

And here we've got another aspect of war and peace: a London-based curator's look back at the cutlural legacies of Iran before the 1979 revolution, including its own Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis, which ran from 1967 to 1977. It had a special focus on Asian and African countries—Indonesia participated, for instance. And also the photographic series "Prostitute" by Kaveh Golestan (see photo above) capturing a red-light district that got demolished in the revolution, with many women either "reformed" or executed.

So while Tavakolian is exploring the present and its "potential" revolutions, Mahlouji's stepping back and reminding us what gets lost after a revolution. And it's kind of relevant for nostalgia-stricken Singapore, since we've lost so much of ourselves in our constant reinventions.

Riding on a Cloud, by Rabih Mroué
23-25 Jun, 72-13

So this is a weird one. Coming to us from Lebanon, we've got a mixed-media theatre piece in which Mroué's younger brother Yasser plays all the roles. The catch is that Yasser suffered partial paralysis and aphasia after being shot in the head in the Lebanese Civil War, back in 1987. And we've got fact and fiction colliding on stage, to the extent that there's every possibility that even Yasser's entire back-story is made up.

There's echoes here of Jérôme Bel and Theatre HORA's Disabled Theatre, which was exhibited in SIFA 2014. And again, it's also a tale of survival—how do we move on after conflict and trauma? What kind of art happens after the war? (This feels very Post-Empires again, come to think of it.)

Perhat Khaliq & Qetiq
Musical performance
23-24 Jun, Victoria Theatre
Artist Talk on 25 Jun

Keng Sen and Noorlinah have been really stoked about this, partly because it represents a part of mass pop culture that we rarely hear about in Singapore. Perhat Khaliq is a superstar in China—he became famous when he auditioned for the reality TV show "Voice of China"—and he's all the more remarkable because he comes from the Uyghur community, which many Chinese dismiss as separatist terrorists.

Khaliq and his band Qetiq are trying to create a renewed form of traditional Uyghur-Kazakh music, via rock and funk. They're ambassadors for their minority cultures to the whole of China—and they're doing it not in Beijing, but from their home base of Urumuqi. Keep it real, dawgs.

And of course I could talk about how this is all about bringing the past to the future once again, but what intrigues me is the fact that there are a lot of mainland Chinese who'll want to watch this, and that they may specifically get festival passes just to watch Khaliq on stage.

Let's hope they also stop by for some Iranian photography while they've got the pass. Fingers crossed.

  • 2016