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The opening of the seventh edition of the Singapore Biennale

Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law, at the opening of Singapore Biennale 2022

Mr Edumund Cheng, Chair, Singapore Art Museum,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. Thank you very much to the four Artistic Directors. In your own words, broadly encapsulated what Natasha means and could mean to all of us, and we could really all spend some time discovering it. 
  2. Good morning and a warm welcome to Singapore, especially to all our international artists and guests.
  3. I am happy to join you today for the first time, in-person, for the opening of the seventh edition of the Singapore Biennale.
  4. Significance of Singapore Biennale

  5. The Singapore Biennale is a pinnacle event in our arts calendar, and has really come a long way since its first edition in 2006.
  6. As Singapore’s signature platform in contemporary art,
    1. It presents and reflects the rigour of artistic practices in Singapore and also in the region,
    2. And fosters collaborations and engagement with artists, arts organisations in Singapore, outside, in the region, and with our international arts community.
    3. When you walk around Natasha, you will find this collaboration has made it truly greater than a sum of its parts. 
  7. Today, it goes without saying that we live in challenging times, marked by many uncertainties. 
    1. Singapore and many other countries in the world , as we begin to open up our borders and learning to live with the COVID-19 pandemic as part of our lives.
    2. Geopolitical tensions are heating up in Asia, around the region, elsewhere in the world.
    3. It is also underscored by the various difficulties that we face in the economy as a result of supply chain difficulties, consequences of war in Europe and so on.
    4. Arising from this, in many societies, people are looking or re-looking at the social compacts – amongst peoples, institutions and across different generations – these compacts and these relationships are increasingly being reviewed and questioned.
  8. In this context, it is useful to remind ourselves at times like this why art is so important, why it has a relevance to our lives and beyond what we can imagine, to us individually and to our collective whole as a society. 
    1. What questions do our contemporary art pose to us?
    2. What answers do they suggest to us? Should they even suggest answers to us?
    3. I hope that some of these contemporary themes will be explored in the presentation of our participating artists, 
    4. And visitors can have good conversations, introspections and reflections on these issues after visiting our Biennale.


  9. This year’s Biennale is named “Natasha”.
    1. The curators have explained to me that through this act of naming, the Biennale invites artists, collaborators, and audiences to indeed move away from usual perceptions and stereotypes, to re-discover ways of seeing and relating to the world.
    2. In some ironic way, by naming it Natasha, you think there is a focus, when actually that focus is your own. You make it up as you go along and decide what it is – is it binary or is it a combination of binary.
    3. It is certainly an unusual name for an arts biennale. When I was first told about its name, I did do a double take for a while but was quickly persuaded that this is the right foot to take. As we open up to the pandemic and emerge from this uncertainty, there was a lot to be gained by not having perceptions, concepts, pre-conceived notions drive what you think this exhibition might want to deliver to you. 
  10. This year’s showcase is an exciting one. 
    1. It will feature over 50 artists and collaborators from across the world.
    2. Their artworks will be featured at 13 locations across Singapore, including Tanjong Pagar Distripark, our regional libraries (Jurong, Woodlands and Tampines) and even St. Johns Island.
    3. By taking contemporary art out of the gallery, the Biennale seeks to connect with the audiences on a far more personal level and make art truly more accessible to everyone, regardless of their background, stages of life, or regardless if you feel you can appreciate art or otherwise.
  11. Of note, this year’s edition is led by an all-female team of Co-Artistic Directors – Ala Younis, Nida Ghouse, Binna Choi and June Yap.
    1. They did a wonderful job bringing colour to Natasha. I would like to commend their good work, 
    2. and what remarkable efforts to put this together. They took at least 18 months, and to be able to conceive of this today was nothing short but remarkable.
  12. Congratulations to the Singapore Art Museum and our Co-Artistic Directors for successfully bringing this show to us.
  13. Having grown from strength to strength over the years, the Singapore Biennale has contributed meaningfully to our vibrant arts ecosystem in Singapore.
  14. Singapore's Arts Scene

  15. At this point, I’d like to take the opportunity to provide a few quick updates on developments in Singapore’s arts scene.
  16. First, we are seeing a very strong recovery in our arts scene, in tandem with the opening of the opening of our economy or borders and also generally life in Singapore coming back to life as normal as possible.
    1. The Singapore arts calendar is incredibly packed over the next few months.
    2. Apart from the Singapore Biennale, we are also looking forward to events such as the 20th Anniversary Celebrations for the Esplanade, the 25th Edition of the Singapore Writers Festival, and the Singapore Art Week early next year.
  17. Next, we are gearing up for the launch of the next arts plan – titled “Our SG Arts Plan (2023 – 2037)”. It is our way of working together with the community, planning forward, looking ahead and making sure we can pull everyone together and help Singapore move along on Our SG Arts Plan.
  18. Over the past year, the National Arts Council (NAC) has engaged some 1,000 stakeholders from our arts community, as well as non-arts stakeholders across the public, private and people sector, to hear and understand their vision and aspirations, and see how the world has changed, and look at how this vision of arts and culture in Singapore can be realised.
    1. I joined one of the engagement sessions and met many artists who shared their views on the future and what they felt will help move the needle for us in the arts sector in Singapore.
  19. In the spirit of the Forward Singapore discussions taking place now, we look forward to a stronger partnership between government and the people and the different people sector in the civil society. That is the only way we can constructively develop, build, nurture and bring forward arts development in Singapore. 
  20. Conclusion

  21. Thank you for putting Singapore on the world map, thank you everyone for being here. I hope this will become one of the key highlights in our calendar. This will be what we look back on years from now to say that we really have emerged from the pandemic with arts at our side building a strong, resilient community. Ultimately, that is what the arts is really for, to build a strong, harmonious, and relational community.
  22. Thank you.
Last updated on 15 October 2022