The Singapore International Festival of Arts' The O.P.E.N.

Sifa’s pre-festival programme The O.P.E.N offers everything from fashion to Uighur rock

Many facets of the arts will come together to create new experiences in The O.P.E.N., the arts fest's pre-festival programme

What do a Mexican fashion designer with a heart for preserving the rich textile traditions of her country's indigenous communities and a Singaporean visual artist bent on breathing life into his hand-drawn characters have in common?

They are pushing the boundaries in their respective fields and they will make their mark here as part of The O.P.E.N.

The Singapore International Festival of Arts' (Sifa) jam-packed pre-festival programme, aimed at getting people thinking and talking, is back for its third edition from June 23 to July 9.

And this time around, it's "bolder and more borderless" than before, says festival director Ong Keng Sen.

"We see The O.P.E.N. as a very exciting space. There are no borders to expression," he says. "We can, for example, do fashion but introduce concepts like ethics and indigenous knowledge. We can look at photography, using the camera in an aesthetic way, but also as a tool to engage the public.

"So it's not just artwork, but is also extremely transformational. It is a no-border festival. We can move among fashion - which is very commercial - to theatricality and performance, to concepts like ethics and conflict."


Visual artist Speak Cryptic's hand-drawn characters (above) will come to life with the help of 100 members of the public. PHOTO: FABIO LOVINO

  • BOOK IT /THE O.P.E.N.

  • WHERE: Various locations

    WHEN: June 23 to July 9

    ADMISSION: $45 for an O.P.E.N. pass for all programmes; $25 concession pass for students, full-time national servicemen and seniors aged 55 and above; early birds get 20 per cent off the O.P.E.N. pass till May 8

    INFO: Due to limited space, registration for talks, salons, concerts, films and performances at The O.P.E.N. is required at sifa.sg. Registration opens on Friday

This year, The O.P.E.N. - which stands for open, participate, engage and negotiate - boasts a rich, star-studded line-up of close to 35 programmes across five segments: exhibition, performance, concert, salon (talks and forums) and film.

Ong says The O.P.E.N. can be an introduction and initiation for people who are not regulars of the art scene, tearing down their preconceptions of the arts and making it accessible.

It is also inspiration, he says, bringing up the festival's theme this year, Potentialities.

"This year, we're looking at the potential in individuals. And we've come up with a line-up of people who have shown how they can transform society, who are role models and change agents.

"These are people who have made a difference in their own way, in very challenging, very diverse contexts," he says.

"Many of us are blind to the power of individuality. But it actually has the power to bring about change and all these individuals show that. Individualism is not something to be afraid of, but embraced, because it can result in the breaking of stereotypes, in changing the world bit by bit from the inside."

Music and movies in the line-up

These change-makers come from all over the world - from distant cities such as Teheran and Mexico City to the troubled province of Xinjiang in China, rocked by separatist conflict.

Award-winning Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian, a nominee member of Magnum Photos, will swing into town with I Know Why The Rebel Sings.

The exhibition offers a comprehensive look at her works, from war reportage to artistic portraits of intimate moments in the private lives of the people of Iran.

She will also be speaking as part of The O.P.E.N.

Another thought leader who will give a talk on her work and experience is Mexican fashion designer Carla Fernandez, who works with indigenous communities in her country, breathing new life into traditional clothing.

Uighur singer Perhat Khaliq - who shot to fame after appearing in The Voice Of China in 2014 - and his band Qetiq will be the headlining concert for The O.P.E.N.

There will also be Club Malam, an immersive evening made up of several interweaving performances by a number of artists.

They include Singapore visual artist Speak Cryptic, whose black- and-white characters will be brought to life by performers, and Indonesian rock band Senyawa, known for mixing traditional music from the Indonesian archipelago with experimental music.

This year, The O.P.E.N.'s film series will kick off with Portuguese film director Miguel Gomes' three-part epic, Arabian Nights (2015). Clocking in at six hours, the film is a year-long labour of love from the director and his team of researchers and journalists, who mined Portugal for stories of true grit and hardship.

The series closes with Italian director Gianfranco Rosi's Fire At Sea (2016), a documentary on migrants which won the coveted Golden Bear award, the highest prize for best film, at the Berlin International Film Festival this year.

Ong says: "We see it as a good time for The O.P.E.N. to respond to the hunger in Singapore for thinking outside the box.

"This is not just a straight art festival. People now want to see 'art plus'. So you need to have art, but what's the plus? There needs to be more to it than just art for art's sake. Some kind of vision, or a reason to do something, to live, to make this work.

"We're once again becoming idealistic, I think, after all the cynicism in the world. We're hopeful for a different sort of world and all the different ways we can make that happen."

•For more stories on Sifa, go to str.sg/ZtWh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2016, with the headline 'Bold and quirky'. Print Edition | Subscribe