Singapore International Photography Festival

A time to reflect

This year's theme, Departing and Arriving, explores notions of identity and belonging

The blue-and-white blocks on 37 Emerald Hill were once the site of Singapore Chinese Girls' School. They now form a quaint backdrop to the Singapore International Photography Festival, where works by local and international artists will deck the walls till January.

Visitors wending their way through the corridors and old schoolrooms will find plenty to savour - from photographer Bob Lee's portraits of families in Housing Board flats; to Lasalle College of the Arts lecturer Gilles Massot's rejected slides (35mm transparent positives).

They can also leaf through a selection of photobooks, and head to the outdoor swimming pool and reflect on Drowned And Talcum, Argentinian-born artist Seba Kurtis' responses to the death of refugees.

The biennial festival, which is organised by arts space Deck, is now in its seventh edition and features more than 70 artists from regions such as Asia, Europe and America.

The main exhibition venues are 37 Emerald Hill and Deck's premises in Prinsep Street, but art can also be found in the Esplanade Tunnel and at seven Downtown Line MRT stations.

At Newton MRT station, for instance, one can catch a glimpse of Calvin Chow's The Blindness Of The Sea - which he embarked on during a trip to Jakarta, the world's fastest-sinking city. It is one of 31 artist portfolios selected from hundreds of entries for an Open Call Showcase.

Over at the ArtScience Museum, the Margins: Drawing Pictures Of Home exhibition features 15 Singapore photographers, from Nguan to Sim Chi Yin.

There will also be guided tours on-site, as well as online events such as talks, dialogues and masterclasses. The Walk With Photographer initiative, too, will see five artists conduct 360-degree online tours through parts of Singapore - ranging from two secondary forests to Joo Chiat - which had informed their work.

Festival director Gwen Lee says: "Despite the challenges this year, we hope to continue our role as the region's leading platform to discover, nurture and propel South-east Asian photographers onto the international stage. The festival aims to introduce the art of photography to the layperson and professionals alike."

This year's theme of Departing and Arriving, chosen before the pandemic struck, takes on "a reflective approach" and gets the audience to explore notions of identity and belonging.

Ms Lee adds that some of the works at 37 Emerald Hill respond indirectly to the history of the venue as a former girls' school that was used as quarters for "comfort women" during World War II. Among these works are Miyuki Okuyama's Dear Japanese photo-documentary, as well as Taiwanese artist Hou I-ting's String Theory - Sewing Space, based partly on old photos of schoolgirls from Taiwan under Japanese rule.


  • WHERE Multiple locations, including Blocks 2 and 3, 37 Emerald Hill (enter via Emerald Link); Deck at 120A Prinsep Street; ArtScience Museum at 6 Bayfront Avenue; Esplanade Tunnel; some MRT stations on the Downtown Line (Beauty World, Rochor, Chinatown, Newton, Little India, Bugis and Bencoolen). Some events are online

    WHEN Till Jan 30 (37 Emerald Hill); till Jan 17 (Deck); from tomorrow to Dec 19 (MRT stations); from Saturday to Feb 28 (ArtScience Museum). Go to website for opening hours

    ADMISSION Free or ticketed, depending on venue. Entry to ticketed venues is $15 (37 Emerald Hill) or $6 (Margins at the ArtScience Museum)


One of the new things this year is the Silvana S. Foundation Commission Award, a $20,000 cash prize for Asia-Pacific photographers focusing on environmental, wildlife preservation and humanitarian issues. At the opening ceremony last week, the prize was awarded to Robert Zhao, who will present an exhibition organised by Singapore's Jada Art Gallery next year.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2020, with the headline A time to reflect. Subscribe