Tuesday, June 14, 2016

More Than Just a Kiss

(This article first appeared on the SIFA Blog. I've been advised that it may be inappropriate for that platform.)


This past weekend, there was a controversy over the staging of the musical Les Misérables at Marina Bay Sands. The directors had inserted a male-male kiss for comic effect into the staging—it took place during the scene Beggars at the Feast, when the minor villain Thénardier is laughing at how he's been able to assimilate into the upper classes:

Ain't it a laugh?
Ain't it a treat?
Hob-nobbin' here
Among the elite?
Here comes a prince
There goes a Jew.
This one's a queer
But what can you do?

It's just a tiny peck on the line "This one's a queer." Blink and you'll miss it, reports say. But the theatre went nuts. Letters of complaint were sent. MDA had to take action.


So the kiss has been removed. And I don't blame the company for doing so—if you're performing a multi-million-dollar international touring musical revue, then you don't need to worry about artistic integrity. It's all about the bottom line instead. You're essentially serving up an expensive version of cultural McDonalds.

I'm not even surprised this happened. I was there in 2012, when MBS put up A Chorus Line and people were leaving the theatre as soon as they discovered there were openly gay characters.
But people got pissed. Playwright Alfian Sa'at (who wrote last year's SIFA highlight, Hotel) wrote a great little screed about this on Facebook. So has Gwyneth Teo, who notes that this G-rated play has portrayals of prison labour, prostitution, child abuse, child soldiers and graphic death, and yet decide that this tiny, frankly more homophobic than homosexual kiss is what needs to hidden away.

And that was before this happened:


Omar Mateen's attack on the Pulse in Orlando, Florida was the largest mass shooting in US history, leaving 51 people dead and 53 injured. And according to his father, it was partially triggered by seeing two men kissing in public.

My lawyer friend Indu commented, "I wonder if the Singapore government will see this as the lesson it is, that extremism cannot be tolerated, or take away the opposite lesson: that gay people shouldn't kiss to avoid being shot."

Right now, the law favours making sure that kissing doesn't happen visibly. Our Public Entertainments and Meetings Act says:

(3)  The content of the arts entertainment must not contain —
(a) anything that is likely to undermine national interest;
(b) anything that is likely to cause offence to any racial or religious group in Singapore;
(c) anything that is likely to cause feelings of enmity, ill‑will or hostility between different racial or religious groups in Singapore;
(d) anything that is lewd or obscene;
(e) anything that promotes any lifestyle or behaviour that is contrary to prevailing social norms, including any alternative sexual lifestyle (such as homosexuality or transgenderism), deviant sexual behaviour or drug abuse...

TV shows similarly aren't allowed to "promote or justify a homosexual lifestyle".

The ironic thing is that Singapore does have LGBT-themed art on show. Lots of it. I just reviewed the gay-themed play Long Weekend at the Twenty-Something Theatre Festival. And In The OPEN Film Fest, we'll be screening at least two films with queer themes: Tangerine (about trans sex workers in LA) and Uncle Howard (about Howard Brookner, a gay artist who died of HIV). Plus, in SIFA's main program, we'll be looking at queer issues through the perspectives of gay performance artists Loo Zihan and Ray Langenbach in I Am LGB.

Poster for Tangerine

So why does all that get a pass, while Les Miz's non-sexual, non-political tiny gay reference has to go?

Because there's more than one kind of art in Singapore. There's art for the masses, and there's art for the intellectuals: the folks with open minds who want to be challenged, who want to think, who want to see different viewpoints and different forms. The argument, from what I've heard, is that the intellectuals are already thinking about alternative ideas, so they can be exposed to freakier things.
The masses still need mollycoddling, according to government policy. Which means that they don't need to see anything that might offend them. Which means that they can gain all the signs of being cultured—knowing the famous names and the great classics—without actually getting the real benefit of culture, i.e. an inquiring, open mind.

Poster for I Am LGB

Does this upset me? Sure, it upsets me. But on the other hand, I suppose we should be grateful that some of us can even show LGBT themes in some arenas? Even though it has no hope of creating any greater awareness amongst the larger population?

No idea, man. By the way, there's a candelight vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting, scheduled for tomorrow at Hong Lim Park, 8pm. I'll be there.
I might even sing a few Les Miz songs while I'm at it. I'm a gay man, after all. Broadway may throw me under the bus, but I can't stop myself.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015


Ng Yi-Sheng


I'm too jaded for this shit.

I mean, seriously, Keng Sen. Why? Just because there is a famous contemporary artist (assuming contemporary is, say, 1965) with a brand name to slap on a show does not make it contemporary. Just because we are wandering from tent to tent to tent does not mean we are engaged in, um, relational aesthetics or some other buzzword.

This is basic circus stuff lah. You watch Cirque de Soleil, Voyage de la Vie, also not so different. This is not cutting edge. I don't know if even got edge to try cutting or not.


On the other hand, as circuses go, this one's pretty cool.

I mean, it's visually very beautiful, as you'll see from above. That's Tantiana Mosio Bongonga, the high wire artist, doing the freaking splits on a tightrope while wearing a leather corset. She's accompanied by a singer, Oumou Kouyate, who's in a colourful West African headwrap and boubou and accompanies her as she teeters and totters with melodious somethings in Bambara (or some suchlike language; I am not an omniglot).

And it's all very analog - you can see them hoisting the net bit by bit at the beginning, while Kouyate sings and Moriba Koita (an instrumentalist) strums his n'goni. Maybe the best bit is that everything's quite close up, cos the tents are smallish - you get an intimacy that you don't get with any other circus setting.

I think I also lucked out last night because the whole delegation from Kerala Kandalam was there too (they're doing Smriti Padha tonight), as well as a bunch of kids from a youth centre, and they were oohing and aahing and clapping like anything.

Some of the regular theatre crowd was there, too. One young man told me he wanted to marry both the highwire girl and the Juan Tula, the Argentine guy on the cyr wheel.


He was wearing a shirt when he performed here, so I wasn't all that engrossed. I spent my time joking about how the aerial silks artist, Bella Legrain looked like she was frolicking inside a giant mosquito net.


There were Asians, too - a pair of Cambodian tumblers, Sopheak Houn and Sarev Roun! They'd been designated to frolic amongst Daniel Buren's ubiquitous stripes, which, I'd like to say, are ugly not as good-looking as his colourful tentages.



Weirdest of all was this ringmaster who looked like a cross between Uncle Fester and the Marquis de Sade, who came in and explained to us how Buren is one of the greatest masters of art from the mid-20th to the early 21st century, because of his goddamn 8.7 cm stripes, which are supposedly inspired by 1) Oriental mysticism, 2) the measurement of his wife's body, 3) I forget.

The accent was strong on this one. I was also rather unfortunate to have him in my last tent, so we ended the entire show on a big WTF note.

So, yeah. It's a nice circus show. Bring your friends! Bring your family! Bring bread, since that's what circuses are best paired with during election season!

But if there's a deep conceptual insight buried in this one, it's not just postmodern, it's also post-me.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

So I'm obsessed with Psychobitches.

And I'm wondering, what other legendary and historical women could fit into Psychobitches Season 3? Hopefully providing some greater ethnic diversity while we're at it?


The Queen of Sheba

Indira Gandhi

Mary Seacole


The Rani of Jansi

Noor Inayat Khan




Mami Wata

Lucy (the human ancestor)





Mary Magdalene



Marianne (the symbol of France)

Amy Winehouse

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Lady Jane Grey

Mary I

Anne Bonney and Mary Read

Louisa May Alcott

Annie Oakley

Elizabeth Fry

Mary Wollstonecraft

Little Red Riding Hood




Anastasia Romanoff

Penthesileia, Queen of the Amazons

Anna Leonowens

Saturday, November 02, 2013

A researcher made a scientific breakthrough about the chemistry of water. Everyone thought she was a man.

So I first found out about this a few days ago: a researcher named Xi Zhang, at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, led a team that suggested a reason why hot water freezes faster than cold water. (It's called the Mpemba Effect, because it was first noted by the Tanzanian student Ernesto Mpemba.)

Awesome, right? I used to work at NTU, and while they're not a model for academic freedom in any way, it's great when any institution invests in science.

It's been reported in both Gizmodo and I fucking love science, which talk about "Xi Zhang and his team", "Xi Zhang and his colleagues".

The weird thing is, when I went to search for the face of this researcher, I found this:

She's a lady. Check the page. She's not just another scientist with the same name: her field of research and the university are the same.

Now, I'm not saying this was a deliberate attempt to whitewash women out of scientific history (although this has happened in the past). And of course, Xi was just one of several researchers, male and female, working on the discovery, which is the way science has often worked.

But journalists of the world: when you're dealing with foreign names, you really can't make assumptions about gender. Elise Andrew, the blogger behind I Fucking Love Science should know this - she's experienced that kind of sexism herself.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Eastern Heathens Launch on Sat 23 August, 6:30-7:30pm!

Hey guys! Eastern Heathens is FINALLY going into print!

What is it? Well, it's an anthology of stories inspired by Asian folklore - there's realism, fantasy, historical fiction, oriental steampunk, horror, comedy, sex... and I'm one of the editors! Mind you, it's mostly drawn from the inspiration and the sweat of my co-editor Amanda Lee Koe - and from the contributors. (I tried submitting a story, but we agreed it wasn't good enough.)

We sent stuff to the print shop yesterday and we're holding the launch next Saturday, at the Arts House, aka The Old Parliament House. It's part of the Literally 9 festival to celebrate the arts centre's ninth anniversary. Alfian Sa'at, Cyril Wong and newcomer Bryan Cheong should be reading! I'm hosting, methinks.

Venue: Arts House, Living Room
Date: 23 Mar 2013
Event Timing: 6.30-7:30pm
Free admission
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/442375729179327/?fref=ts

The authors, btw, are:

Bryan Cheong (Singapore)
Hoa Pham (Australia)
Cyril Wong (Singapore)
Jeannine Hall Gailey (USA/Japan)
Alfian Sa'at (Singapore/Malaysia)
Amanda Lee Koe (Singapore)
Jon Gresham (Australia/Singapore)
Anila Angin (Singapore)
Chan Ziqian (Singapore/Poland)
Jennani Durai (Singapore)
Li Huijia (Singapore)
Abha Iyengar (India)
Zeny May Recidoro (Philippines)
Jason Erik Lundberg (USA/Singapore)

Seeya there!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Several announcements for January!

1. Flying Circus Project!

I'm going to Myanmar from 3 to 15 January, to be part of the Flying Circus Project! Here's the blog I'm maintaining at Weebly.

2. OH! Marina Bay

This means I'm gonna miss Evil Empire's OH!: Open House at Marina Bay, a series of interactive art tours that are happening this weekend and next weekend - that's 5, 6, 12, 13 Jan - at Marina Bay. I contributed a short story to their program, titled Block Quotes. If you wanna go, better go early - lines are kuh-ray-zee.

3. Campaign City

I actually designed a poster for Evil Empire as part of their Campaign City: Life in Posters exhibition. It's showing at the National Library, Level 11, from 9 January onwards - huge light boxes on the walls, each featuring an artist's reinterpretation of one of the PAP's propaganda campaigns! I worked with the Speak Good English campaign in a way that celebrates local experimental writing.

4. Choice Cuts

And there's actually already an exhibition I'm involved in on show, at Jurong Regional Library, called Choice Cuts - a little installation by my friends at Studio Kaleido that gives you personal recommendations for Singapore literature, by Singaporean writers. As you can see, I'm featured as a recommender (not as a recommendee), as are Boey Kim Cheng, Wena Poon, Enoch Ng, etc, etc. (Gwee Li Sui is both a recommender and a -dee, ugh.)

The show will move from library to library until it opens in Central Lending around March. I should be able to make it for that launch.

That's all for now. I think!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Microcosmos/Archiving Cane: Opening this Thursday!

I´ve written material for two art exhibitions opening this Thursday. Sadly, I can´t attend either of them because I´m in Scandinavia - I´m a blogger for the ILGA Conference in Stockholm next week!

This means you´ll have to attend in my stead. Pop over to the Substation for Loo Zihan´s Archiving Cane, which I´ve written an essay for:

Archiving Cane
Date: Fri 7 Dec to Sun 16 Dec
Venue: The Substation
Reception: Thu 6 Dec, 7:30pmPlease note that this exhibition contains material that is rated R21

Then get a cab to Goodman Arts Centre for Amanda Lee´s Microcosmos, a photography exhibition for which writers like myself have written poetry and stories inspired by the art:

Date: Fri 7 Dec to Wed 12 Dec
Venue: Goodman Arts Centre, Block B, 90 Goodman Road
Reception: Thu 6 Dec, 8pm to 10:30pm

Click the links if you want to find out more!