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Showcasing Singapore arts and artists at the 60th 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 60th Edition of the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia

1.     Good afternoon. Thank you to all of you for joining us in the launch of the Singapore Pavilion during this very hectic but really interesting, exciting, and vibrant opening week at Venice Biennale.

  • We are here today to celebrate the opening of the wonderful Seeing Forest work by Robert Zhao and curated by Haeju Kim.
  • We are also here to celebrate the display of eight works from the National Gallery Singapore at the Venice Biennale Main Exhibition, and this is a first for Singapore in our history. 

2.     The theme of this year’s Venice Biennale – Foreigners Everywhere – I think it is a little deliberately provocative, but I think it resonates with all of us because we are all foreigners somewhere when we are in different spaces.

  • Nonetheless, it is a powerful rallying call for everyone to embrace diversity around us, to recognise that we are all foreigners in some sense, and to have the humility to learn from people all around us. 

3.     There are also many parallels between the Venice Biennale theme, and Singapore’s art scene.

  • Singapore, as many of you know, is a vibrant, multicultural, multiethnic city-state at the crossroads of Southeast Asia. 
  • We pride ourselves in our diversity, and our openness to the world. 
  • But at the same time we are a relatively young nation – 58 years, celebrating less than six decades of independence. 
  • But over the years, we have created a dynamic, flourishing, as well as a distinctive arts scene, one that celebrates our unique cultural heritage while always remaining outward-looking and open to ideas, innovation, and change.  

4.     This year marks Singapore’s 11th participation at the Venice Biennale Arte. 

  • The Venice Biennale is a very important platform to showcase the best of Singapore visual arts, and for our artists to be connected to the pulse of the international arts scene. And there really is no better place than at the Venice Biennale.
  • The Venice Biennale gives Singapore the opportunity to share stories of artists from Southeast Asia and Singapore, and present quality art that showcases our unique cultural identity.

5.     By actively participating in internationalisation opportunities,

  • With our artists establishing themselves on the world stage,
  • Singapore aims to be more deeply and intimately connected globally to the arts sector,
  • And to also grow international demand to build a strong creative economy for our arts ecosystem. 

6.     The Singapore Government will continue to do our part to support our artists in efforts to bring Singapore arts to an international audience, such as the Venice Biennale. 

  • We will continue to facilitate cultural exchanges between Singapore artists and the world through international partnerships, MOUs, grants, residencies, and other means. 

7.     As I mentioned earlier, there are eight artworks from National Gallery Singapore’s collection on display at the Main Exhibition, in a sub-section titled “Portraits”. 

  • This is the first time in Singapore’s history that we have been invited to do so, and we are completely privileged and honoured to be able to do so.

8.     The National Gallery Singapore houses the largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asia modern art. 

  • Singapore’s contribution to the Main Exhibition is itself a significant recognition of the National Gallery Singapore’s tireless efforts in strengthening in-depth research of Southeast Asian art and art history, and a testament to the strength of its collection.

9.     I invite you warmly to view the works at the Main Exhibition while you are here at the Biennale.

10.    Let me now turn to the Singapore Pavilion. 

  • This year, the National Arts Council commissioned the Singapore Art Museum to organise this lovely Singapore Pavilion we see here today. 
  • The Singapore Art Museum is one of the leading contemporary art museums in Southeast Asia, and its participation at the Venice Biennale helps to further its goal to present contemporary art from a unique Southeast Asian perspective, for artists, art lovers, and the art curious. 
  • The result is Seeing Forest, this very immersive and thought provocative work that we get to experience today. 

11.    I want to take a moment to acknowledge the amazing work by Robert Zhao and Haeju Kim.

12.    Robert is one of Singapore’s foremost interdisciplinary artists.

  • Robert was selected by the Commissioning Panel based on the strength as well as the trajectory of his artistic practice and research.
  • As Robert had said, this is a product of more than several years’ worth of patience, discipline, and a very keen eye on something that we see every day, but we might not recognise the art.
  • Robert’s work transcends multiple mediums including installation, photography, video and sculpture.
  • His works have been presented internationally, including in Australia, France, Japan, Korea, Thailand, UK and USA. 

13.    We are thoroughly delighted to have Robert for this year’s Singapore Pavilion.

  • In his characteristic fashion, he has created a work that thoughtfully explores the intersection of nature and human society, and that is particularly relevant in the context of a heavily urbanised environment like Singapore.
  • In fact, when I previewed it, there were many scenes shot that I could not recognise the Singapore element.

14.    Curating the pavilion is Singapore Art Museum’s Senior Curator Haeju Kim.

  • Earlier, she said that she did not have much presence and time in Singapore, but I think she spoke and curated this like she had always been in Singapore.
  • She brings with her a wealth of experience in curating contemporary art exhibitions and performance programmes from around the world, as well as her insights on the contemporary art practices not just in Singapore, but Southeast Asia and rest of Asia. 

15.    Singapore’s contribution at this Venice Biennale is just a preview, a taste of the vibrant arts and culture scene that Singapore has to offer.

16.    We have an exciting year-round arts calendar, featuring a diverse mix of international as well as local artists.

  • Earlier in January, we held the Singapore Art Week, which featured over 180 different events, including fairs such as Art SG and SEA Focus, which see international and regional galleries bringing their progressive concepts and curation right here to the Singapore art landscape.
  • In May, our pinnacle performing arts festival, the Singapore International Festival of Arts, will return with an exciting line up of works. 

17.    Let me encourage and welcome all our international guests to come and experience the amazing arts and culture scene in Singapore for yourself.

18.    In closing, I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge and deeply and warmly congratulate the efforts of:

  • the entire pavilion team,
  • my colleagues from the National Arts Council, Singapore Art Museum, National Gallery Singapore,
  • including many more who work behind the scenes tirelessly to organise and prepare our artworks for travel, set up and install the works onsite and making sure that no detail is too small for them to fuss and care overt,
  • our donors and partners, for making the Singapore pavilion as well as the loans to the Main Exhibition a reality.  

19.    On this note, I am pleased to declare the Singapore Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2024 open.

Last updated on 07 May 2024