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Promoting and celebrating the rich and diverse ASEAN culture

Opening remarks by Mr Lawrence Wong, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Outgoing Chair Of AMCA, Singapore, at the 6th meeting of the Asean Ministers Responsible for Culture and the Arts (AMCA) plenary session

19 April 2014
Excellencies and Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

1. I am delighted to be here at this 6th AMCA Meeting in the historic city of Hue. I am starting this Meeting because Singapore is the current chair of AMCA but we will be handing it over to Viet Nam shortly. Let me first convey my appreciation to our friends from Viet Nam for graciously hosting this meeting, and for their warm hospitality.

2. Today, on behalf of Singapore, I will hand over the Chairmanship of AMCA. It seems only a short while ago that the Ministers met in Singapore, in 2012. I believe many of you were in Singapore, some of you may not have been. Since then a great deal has taken place: exciting cultural initiatives and promising developments that have brought us closer as one ASEAN family. We are looking forward to becoming a more integrated ASEAN Community by 2015 and beyond. This is a major commitment that requires a shared vision anchored in a common resolve. While we have many initiatives in different dimensions such as economic and security, as we heard just now, it is really the people-to-people, cultural projects that will make a difference in fostering a stronger sense of belonging and identity in this ASEAN community.

3. As Chair, Singapore had the privilege to be named the ASEAN City of Culture. During these two years, it was a pleasure playing host to our ASEAN friends and showcasing Singapore and Southeast Asia’s rich cultural diversity to all Singaporeans, the people of ASEAN, and friends from all over the world. We were very happy to see artists and enthusiasts from all over ASEAN coming together, and being involved in some of our flagship cultural events like the Singapore Arts Festival, the Singapore Writers Festival and the Singapore Biennale, just to name a few.

4. Beyond sharing our culture with the region, the ASEAN City of Culture banner also meant that Singapore became a natural meeting place for ASEAN peoples and cultures. During our term as Chair, we had the pleasure of organising a wide range of cultural events, including the 5th ASEAN Festival of the Arts, the 2012 ASEAN Puppetry Festival and the ASEAN Film Festival. These initiatives nurtured and paid tribute to our Southeast Asian artists, creating a conducive environment to meet fellow practitioners, exchange ideas and reach out to new audiences in Singapore and beyond.

5. I had the pleasure of personally hosting a particularly meaningful event last year which was the 2013 ASEAN Youth Camp. For one week, 39 ASEAN youths took part in workshops mentored by professionals in traditional dance, traditional music, painting and photography. The youths worked very hard with one another, and at the end of their training they were able to perform at the Singapore Night Festival, which is an annual landmark event in our arts and heritage district. They also put up an exhibition of painting and photography works at the National Museum of Singapore. We did a survey at the end of the camp, and we found unanimous agreement amongst the participants that through this experience they felt more united as ASEAN, and had made more friends from ASEAN countries.

6. So we think the ASEAN Youth Camp is a particularly meaningful one as it provides an opportunity for ASEAN youths to work side by side on programmes and events, and forge closer ties together. This augurs well for ASEAN’s future, as our youths will eventually grow up to be leaders of ASEAN.

7. Earlier this year, we also concluded the fourth edition of the Singapore Biennale which is the main platform for contemporary art in Singapore. Of the more than 80 artists featured in the Singapore Biennale, more than 90% of the works were by artists or collectives from ASEAN. This was the first time that we had put together such a focused collection of Southeast Asian contemporary art. We saw a record high of 560,000 visitors for the event, and we received many positive reviews from visitors both locally and abroad. This demonstrates a very strong interest in Southeast Asian art, and the potential we have to develop and grow this area together – not just individually, but collectively as a region to develop and nurture the potential of ASEAN and Southeast Asian arts

8. The mantle of ASEAN City of Culture now moves to Viet Nam and the city of Hue, and we can all look forward to coming here over the next two years to a beautiful country with so much to offer in the arts and heritage.

9. On our part, Singapore will continue to promote and celebrate our rich and diverse ASEAN culture even beyond our Chairmanship. I am happy to share that we have a new art museum coming up, which is the National Gallery Singapore, which will open in the latter half of 2015, we are positioning this as the world’s first museum to focus on the research and exhibition of Southeast Asian art from the 19th century onwards. In the National Gallery we can look forward to more than 18,000 square metres of gallery space dedicated to Southeast Asian art. There will be special exhibitions, archives and resources for academics and the public to learn more about Southeast Asian art. Through the gallery, we hope to celebrate the unique and rich cultures of ASEAN, and underscore the importance of the arts and culture as a unifying force for ASEAN, and as a means to bridge the diverse communities in our countries.

10. Singapore undertakes these efforts in the belief that the time is ripe for the region, and the world to know more about Southeast Asia – who we are and how we live, as a people, as a tapestry of cultures, and as an ASEAN Community. I am glad to note that over the past two years, we have been deepening our cultural relations with our ASEAN dialogue partners. Less than two weeks ago, the Opening of the ASEAN-China Cultural Exchange Year was held successfully in Beijing. Last September, we held the first Korea-South East Asian Culture Ministers Meeting in Gwangju, and last December, ASEAN and Japan’s Leaders celebrated the 40th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan relations. And of course, at this AMCA Meeting, we are joined by China for the second time, and for the very first time – Japan and the Republic of Korea. These are significant milestones for our cultural partnerships, and opportunities for ASEAN arts and culture to be experienced all across Asia. And perhaps if we continue to move in this direction, before too long, we can envisage a South-east Asian pavilion at international biennales and art fairs where artists and curators from ASEAN member countries come together to present their artistic talents to the world.

11. So on the whole, Excellencies, we have made good progress on the cultural front because of the strong support that Singapore received from all of you, our ASEAN Member States, during our two-year term as Chair. We are deeply grateful for your support, and I thank all our friends from ASEAN for your unwavering support. I would also like to record our thanks to the ASEAN Secretariat for working tirelessly behind the scene to facilitate our conversations and discussions.

12. I am confident that these efforts will continue and that there will be strong co-operation to sustain our cultural initiatives. So I have great optimism as I hand over the Chairmanship of AMCA to Viet Nam today. With it, I offer Singapore’s assurances of our full support for the ASEAN Community in 2015 and beyond.

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Last Updated: 25 April 2014

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