Showcasing Singapore arts and artists at the 59th Venice Biennale
Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law, at the Opening of the Singapore Pavilion at the 59th Edition of the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia
21 April 2022
A very good morning to everyone and welcome to the opening of the Singapore Pavilion.
Singapore, as many of you know, is a multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious society. And we pride ourselves on that. The glue that brings all of that together is our belief and our strength in arts and culture – these are essential to our society.
a) Arts and culture is that special weave that binds all of us together in Singapore as one community, constantly reminding us that we are all Singaporean, and also reminding us that we have to be outward-looking and remain open.
b) And our artists express and showcase our distinctive Singaporean identity and culture though their arts practices.
c) At the same time, they connect and collaborate with their international partners, engage with audiences all over the world, and reflect about home and our relationship to one another in the world.
I am therefore delighted to launch the Singapore Pavilion at the 59th Edition of the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia or Biennale Arte.
a) This is timely as global travel is once again resuming.
b) I am proud to present Singapore artists at this international platform to share Singapore arts and culture with our friends here in Venice, and promote the idea of connecting, and forming deep, sustainable partnerships – and this is very evident in the project our Singapore team has created.
On behalf of the Singapore team, I invite you to take the time to explore and experience the Singapore Pavilion.
Shubigi Rao’s Pulp Volume Three: A Short Biography of the Banished Book at the Singapore Pavilion is a tribute to the shared stories of humanity as told through the lens of print communities in Singapore and around the world.
This exhibition brings us on a journey into the world of stories centred around and about books – an enduring symbol and container of knowledge connecting individuals across disparate regions.
a) From a Singaporean print historian who retraces the cosmopolitanism of Malay print through lithography, to an antiquarian bookstore owner rooted in Venice, the collection of human narratives presented here serves as a record of such vital histories and a tribute to the unseen work of these cultural heroes.
At the core of this showcase is the intricacy of people and their communities, in particular the stories and histories they carry.
Curating our Singapore Pavilion is Ute Meta Bauer, Founding Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, a research centre of the Nanyang Technological University.
a) With a three-decade career leading numerous exhibitions, programmes and residencies in contemporary art, film, video and sound, Ute has played a crucial role in the development of Singapore’s contemporary art scene in the last decade.
Let me warmly congratulate Shubigi and Ute who join the ranks of Singapore’s outstanding artists who have presented here at the Biennale Arte.
Shubigi and Ute are also the first women-led artist curator team at the Singapore Pavilion. I’m tremendously proud about that.
a) They have shown the world the diversity and range of talents in Singapore’s visual arts landscape. Shubigi is right – women have been leading the way; she is not the only one. But I think she will blaze a trail that I’m sure others will follow.
b) Their representation here is a clear reflection of the growing importance, relevance and strength of the female voice in our communities today.
Showcasing Singapore arts and artists
This year also marks Singapore’s 10th participation at the Biennale Arte.
a) Since 2001, Singapore’s artists have presented at this important platform -- one of the most established and significant international platforms for contemporary art.
b) Here, our artists have engaged with international audiences, and exchanged ideas and formed connections with their peers from around the world.
c) And we will continue to do so in the years to come.
Since 2015, the National Arts Council of Singapore, or NAC, has secured the Singapore Pavilion exhibition site within this wonderful building for 20 years.
a) This reflects our deep and long-term commitment to bring Singapore arts and artists to the world.
We hope that Shubigi and Ute’s presentation here will inspire future generations of artists to continue with their international endeavours and aspirations.
a) To reach new audiences and markets.
b) To learn from international best practices, expand the boundaries of their practice, and add to the diversity and vibrancy of Singapore’s arts scene.
The Singapore Government will continue to do our part to support them in their efforts to bring Singapore arts beyond our shores.
Beyond the Biennale Arte, we have also facilitated cultural exchanges between artists through our international partnerships, MOUs, grants and of course residencies.
a) For example, NAC concluded two editions of the digital residency programme with the Australia Council for the Arts.
b) Despite travel restrictions over the last two years or so, this residency had enabled greater Singapore-Australia artists collaborations amidst, and perhaps despite, the pandemic.
c) Technology has also allowed NAC to run its first ever residency on the metaverse with the Arts Council Korea, where artists from both countries collaborated in virtual reality.
These partnerships reflect the value of deep, sustainable international partnerships, and are just some of our recent exciting and innovative projects that we look forward to with our partners.
Growing Singapore’s arts scene
On this note, let me say a little bit about the growing arts scene in Singapore. I am happy to note that this exhibition will return to Singapore next year.
a) Singapore audiences will have the opportunity to experience the Pavilion, even if they do not have the chance to visit Venice.
b) I am sure many Singaporeans will be looking forward to it and will find deep resonance with the stories that are found and shared in Shubigi’s book and film.
The international presence of Singapore’s home-grown talents reflects the vibrancy and dynamism of our arts scene.
Today, we see a robust visual, performing and literary arts scene in Singapore, which welcomes international exchanges to our city and profiles Singapore artists alongside international artists. Let me share a little bit about this year’s highlights:
a) In January this year, we celebrated artistic legacies and new frontiers at the 10th edition of the Singapore Art Week.
b) Later this year in October, we are looking forward to the 7th edition of the Singapore Biennale, which has continuously drawn the attention of international artists, curators, and critics.
c) Our pinnacle performing arts festival, the Singapore International Festival of Arts returns next month, with an exciting line-up of diverse work across dance, theatre, music and film.
d) As one of the world’s few multilingual literary arts festivals, the Singapore Writers Festival will mark its 25th edition later this year in November.
Our museums and galleries in Singapore continue to offer diverse and engaging programmes and events throughout the year. Let me make two more pitches:
a) Our National Gallery Singapore houses the largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asia modern art, and recently concluded a retrospective of the visionary artist Nam June Paik − the first of such a comprehensive survey of the late artist’s work in Southeast Asia.
b) The Singapore Art Museum has relocated to an industrial space at the Tanjong Pagar Distripark. This will be a strong anchor for us to develop the space into a vibrant arts and culture cluster – a space for new forms of art creation, presentation, and engagement with existing audiences and developing new ones.
We are so very proud of the progress of our arts scene and the innovation and resilience of our artists, and we look forward to welcoming all of you to Singapore, to any of the items that I have just hopefully enticed you with. Hopefully our artists can work with many of you in Singapore.
Once again, thank you and congratulations to Shubigi, Ute and the team for bringing to life this really, truly, stellar piece of work, as well as all those behind the scenes, named or unnamed, for supporting this presentation along the way. It has been a long journey, but we are so very proud that it has come to fruition this morning and were able to open this Pavilion with all of you here today.
Thank you very much, to the both of you, for presenting this work at the Pavilion with such pride and with such distinction.
To our guests here this morning, thank you for listening to all of us, for being here and celebrating this occasion with us, and I look forward to seeing you in Singapore as part of our Singaporean artistic journey.