Singapore Art Week 2020

By Dimithri Wijesinghe

On a five-day trip to Singapore from 16 to 20 January 2020 courtesy of the Singapore Tourist Board (STB) and Singapore Airlines, we experienced a concentrated dose of the essence of a country which strives to be the greenest city in the world.
Lovingly referred to as the “garden city” up until recently and now called the “city in a garden” as a result of their commitment to go green, Singapore is a small Southeast Asian heaven for enthusiasts of all kinds.

While five days seemed rather excessive for a country which only occupies 725 sq. km of land with a population of just over five and a half million, as we waded our way through the many attractions that Singapore had to offer, five days didn’t seem nearly enough.

We did our best to cover as much ground as possible in order to truly understand what is available for the casual traveller in Singapore; it was evident that the Singapore events calendar is arranged in such a way that there is an abundance of activities for any traveller who comes in at any time of the year.

Considering Singapore is a small country (Sri Lanka is approximately 91 times bigger than Singapore), it really does not matter where you plan to stay because at furthest away, you are just an hour away from the major attractions of the city.
During our tour, we were lucky enough to visit many of the major attractions including – and not limited to – the Singapore Zoo, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Flyer, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Merlion Park, Gardens by the Bay, ArtScience Museum, and Sentosa Island.

As part of STB’s global campaign, Singapore is best experienced through your “passion tribe”; the STB has grouped potential visitors to the country and they are identified as foodie, collector, explorer, progressor, culture shaper, action seeker, and socialiser. The experiences available on offer for the international traveller as well as locals are catered to satisfy these passion tribes.

The STB policy is quite simple: Cater to the passion tribes and always ensure that attractions are not only laden towards tourists, but also to always be appealing to the locals as tourists would not visit some place that a local would not. It is a simple but effective strategy where everything is easily accessible to both parties.

Stay tuned for a four-part series of our time in Singapore and how best to tackle your trip to this garden city.

This week’s attraction – Singapore Art Week

We landed in Singapore just in the middle of Singapore Art Week 2020. There are a few things Singaporeans absolutely love to do on the regular – eat and shop. But during dedicated times of the year, they hold festivals where they take some time out of their metropolitan worlds to enjoy and appreciate the arts.

Singapore Art Week is an annual, nine-day celebration of visual arts. Jointly organised by the National Arts Council (NAC), STB, and Singapore Economic Development Board, the celebration takes place in the month of January.
The art week offers artists, collectives, organisations, and other art intermediaries a visible platform for showcasing a range of quality visual arts projects, discussions, and exhibitions to both their local and international audiences. In 2020, we were lucky enough to experience the eighth edition held from 11 to 19 January.

If you’re Sri Lankan, you know that Lanka has always looked up to Singapore in such a way that their progress in such a short time has been incredible; how such a small nation is able to strive in today’s world and compete with global giants is impressive, and we are always looking up to Singapore to see what we can do better.

One thing we witnessed as Sri Lankans travelling to Singapore was their Government’s commitment to tourism, particularly their investment in the arts. Artists in Sri Lanka have maintained a longstanding battle with the governing bodies of the island with regard to funding and spaces to celebrate the arts, whereas the STB has embraced the arts and adopted it as a major part of their annual events calendar to attract foreign revenue.

The country is all about multipurpose and maximising; you’ve got a zoo during the day and why not have a nighttime attraction where they transform the entire zoo space into a light show, which is Singapore’s famous “Rainforest Lumina”, repurposing unconventional spaces like the old Supreme Court which is now their National Gallery, an art museum built on the former courthouse.

The STB is the lead development agency for tourism, one of Singapore’s key economic sectors. With their brand “Passion Made Possible” plastered all over the city, the country has moulded into a vibrant destination that inspires people to share and deepen their passions.

The NAC champions the arts in Singapore. They are dedicated to preserving the country’s cultural traditions as they cultivate accomplished artists and vibrant companies for the country’s future. The council’s support for the arts is comprehensive; from grants and partnerships to industry facilitation and arts housing, the council welcomes private and corporate partnerships in order to make the arts an integral part of their everyday lives.

In our exploration of the arts scene in the country, we experienced the Singapore Biennale 2020 held at the National Gallery, to which over 70 artists from around the world gathered to display and discuss contemporary art sharing in visual art pieces, performance art, and paying tribute to artists of times come to pass.

Another highlight during the Singapore Art Week was “Atypical Singapore”, an art and augmented reality (AR) technology showcase held from 17 to 19 January.

Atypical is part of a recent wave of marketing activities launched by STB under their brand and global campaign, Passion Made Possible. This showcase is spread throughout Singapore in select cities, which will be the story of the “culture shaper” passion tribe – those who enjoy immersing themselves in the arts and culture to gain new perspective.

The Atypical experience is a multisensory art experience curated by Khairuddin Hori, Director and Partner of Chan + Hori Contemporary, and Atypical has not been limited to Singapore over the years. It travelled to India in February and Thailand in March last year and what we experienced was their homecoming exhibition as part of Singapore Art Week.

There was no admission fee for the showcase available at the National Design Centre; it was mad accessible to any and all including their inclusion of AR animation through mobile phones, where artworks around the city come to life if witnessed via scanning a QR code, making the experience engaging and interactive.

Closing things off for the art week – or at least for us – was the “Nigh to Light” festival, which is also held simultaneous and in conjunction to the Singapore Art Week. For two weeks, art is extended beyond the walls of the Civic District’s cultural institutions – National Gallery Singapore, Asian Civilisations Museum, The Arts House, Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall, and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay – into the precinct’s public spaces, transforming them with light, sound, and movement.