Fostering “Intimacy” and human connection through literature
Opening Remarks by Ms Low Yen Ling, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Trade and Industry, at the Opening Ceremony of the 23rd Singapore Writers Festival
30 October 2020
Ladies and Gentlemen
Welcome to the 23rd Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) and our inaugural digital edition! It is my pleasure to open this year’s festival, which brings together homegrown and international literary talents in their shared love for writing. SWF is the pinnacle event for literary arts in our arts and culture calendar. It is also recognised as one of Asia’s premier literary events.
The theme for this year’s SWF is “Intimacy”. It is a timely exploration of what it means to connect with, and draw inspiration from one another when safe distancing has become the norm due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are called to reflect on the need for community, and physical and emotional connection, as well as to envisage new ways to engage with one another. This year’s festival experiments with new blended formats to overcome geographical boundaries and reach out to the wider literary community and public.
Experiencing literature in this new normal
Over the past few months, we have witnessed changes on a global scale arising from the pandemic and its effects. The arts sector has been disrupted by COVID-19 measures. The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and the National Arts Council (NAC) is committed to see our arts community through this crisis. As part of the $55 million Arts and Culture Resilience Package, we introduced the Digitalisation Fund to support our artists in digitalising content for new projects and programmes, including this year’s SWF. We will continue to partner our community to pilot new, creative approaches for our arts and culture sector to overcome COVID-19 and emerge stronger.
During these unsettling times, many of us have turned to the arts for much needed connection, inspiration and comfort. The arts can help us make sense of our world, understand different perspectives, and uplift our spirits. Literature has the redemptive power to foster empathy, encourage cross-cultural dialogues and build intimacy.
This year’s digital edition of SWF offers many different possibilities of appreciating and enjoying literature. The SWF team has worked hard to curate over 160 online programmes with engaging and interactive content. They hope to connect participants in novel ways, and help forge a sense of cohesion among our communities despite the physical distance and differences between us.
For example, in DGNoir 1971, Hassan Hasaa’Ree Ali’s short story will be brought to life through an AR-enabled mobile phone application, allowing audiences to enjoy literature in a hyperreal setting.
In another novel participatory format, participants in A Call Away will receive a package of items and be guided to explore these items through a phone call. Inspired by poet Alvin Pang’s What Gives Us Our Names, participants will experience an interesting blend of sounds and stories as they open the package and discover the items within. I had the opportunity to participate in A Call Away myself, and was delighted by the intimate connections formed through this short session.
These kinds of shared experiences bring SWF participants closer together.
Literature as bridge between generations
This year’s festival also honours the legacy of our pioneers through the Literary Pioneer series presented by The Arts House. We will be celebrating the life and work of three seminal Tamil writers and Cultural Medallion recipients – P Krishnan, Ma Elangkannan, and Rama Kannabiran – through an interactive and multi-sensory digital exhibition in both English and Tamil. In the exhibition, young Tamil writers, Harini V, Ashwini Selvaraj and Bharathi Moorthiappan unearth stories of Singapore’s Indian community from the Second World War to the years of industrialisation and urbanisation in the 1970s and 1980s.
The grit and passion of our Tamil pioneers and their rich contributions to our cultural legacy remind us of our shared past, and the values which have seen us through to today. They give us confidence that we will overcome the challenges of this pandemic if we stand together.
Other festival highlights include the SWF Playground programmes, which provide budding young writers with opportunities to learn from established authors and artists. There are also Youth Fringe programmes, co-curated by youths themselves and the Singapore Book Council. We must continue to engage our youth who will be the next generation of practitioners, supporters, and patrons of the arts. I am glad that SWF’s programmes are inclusive and cater to a multi-generational audience, promoting the accessibility of the arts to all.
Strengthening dialogue and intercultural understanding
Reflecting Singapore’s multi-cultural heritage, SWF is one of the few multilingual festivals in the world that celebrate writers and their literary works drawn from English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil - Singapore’s four official languages. As a global hub, SWF also features international writers in various languages, such as Korean, Tagalog, Bengali and Russian. For these works, English translations or interpretations will be provided so that more people can enjoy this literary feast!
In conclusion, I would like to thank Festival Director Pooja Nansi and the SWF team for making this year’s festival possible, and putting together an exciting line-up of programmes despite current constraints.
I wish everyone an inspiring time at SWF. I hope you will walk away with new insights and connections. Thank you, and have a good evening.