beloved, we are gathered here today to lay No Art Day
we pursue showy, acrimonious circuses?
do we throw our weight behind the quiet road-builders & bricklayers?
poor, misunderstood beast was born of good intentions, but
fell prey to that most human of sins - overweening ambition
and sheer dumb miscalculation.
its brief existence, there was constant confusion over whether
it looked angry, sombre, contemplative or just indecisive.
a long-standing dream to spark off and lead a national pro-arts
movement, this sad entity was largely vilified, misrepresented
and ignored in its brief public life.
marked its passing on Dec 29, except for some loyal followers
and pundits in the wings.
I urge all you artists and arts-lovers alike not to mock
this poor misshapen creature that few appreciated and fewer
mind that most artists, including us writers, were never
quite introduced to NAD and what it stood for, even though
it purported to speak for all of us.
the start, NAD's appeal was probably more the charisma of
its organisers and supporters than the quality of its ideas.
it about irony? Contemplation of Art by denying Art? Navel-gazing?
We were in the dark.
Art Day was spawned in seclusion, to a faction of an arts
community too cosy for its own good. Too small, perhaps,
for anyone to broach effective dissent when they see a bad
Shakespeare's Prospero, we must acknowledge this thing of
darkness, is ours in the end.
all, despite the outcome, it was conceived as an act of
arts activism, reacting to a system which places the perpetual
hurdles of censorship and funding in the way of its struggling
NAD's detractors concede that the hurdles are real. Look
at what happened to Talaq.
aims, at least, were in the service of artistic development.
the way it worked out, NAD did as much good as a sulking
child holding its own breath when denied a favourite toy.
artists like fellow poet Felix Cheong, 35, NAD is more a
symbol of grand petulance than real, roll-up-your-sleeves
should know - he's got a five-year-old kid.
on Dec 20 he won a grant from the Singapore International
Foundation, to promote local writing in major universities
that prophets (and artists) are seldom first recognised
in their own home town, he hopes to carve a place for our
writers on the world stage by stocking academic libraries
abroad and organising writers' trips (a la concert tours)
a long-haul process, as glamorous, flashy - and necessary
- as bricklaying.
it's worked before. After all, local talents like singer
Kit Chan, actor Ivan Heng and violinist Lee Huei Min have
had to cut their teeth elsewhere before their talent was
embraced back home.
sure, Singaporean artists are constrained by economics,
policy and cultural factors.
the point Felix and other arts activists make by virtue
of their unsung efforts is this: There's a constructive
way forward, even in an adverse environment.
could even argue that censorship can bring out the best
in an artist, forcing him to clarify and stretch his craft
to accommodate or go around imposed barriers.
acclaimed Indonesian dissident writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer
has shown, nothing helps to break the barrier of silence
more than genuine artistic merit attracting international
course, more can be done to market artists abroad, mentor
young talent, and educate audiences.
like Felix, Paul Tan and I, who review books for the press,
see it as a great way to introduce good, serious works to
only throwing in a small pebble, but I hope it will help
build up the momentum,'' says Felix, who won the Young Artist
Award last year for his work as a literary marketeer, mentor,
book reviewer and writer.
disagrees that the environment here is all that hostile
to the committed artist.
writers in Singapore face relatively few problems with censorship.
But then again, they also lack the generous attention, support
and funding that has been poured into the performing arts,
in which NAD, ironically, had its roots.
the failure of NAD by no means signals the death of ''active
folks who quietly received those Singapore Internationale
grants a week before NAD, stood testimony to the gumption,
creativity and entrepreneurship of our local artists, without
making a song and dance about it.
they are far from alone.
it would seem that in December we saw two alternative models
of arts activism.
we've got a long way to go as an arts hub. That's why experiments
like NAD and Felix Cheong's export project are being tried
out by committed artists here.
is, do we continue to pursue and harp on showy, acrimonious
do we throw our weight behind the quiet road-builders and
bricklayers of our Renaissance city in the making?