Enter a stranger's kitchen this Arts Fest

Filipino film-maker Lav Diaz will film a new work on domestic workers in Singapore.
Filipino film-maker Lav Diaz will film a new work on domestic workers in Singapore.PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS

The Singapore International Festival of Arts is asking Singaporeans to open their kitchens to strangers and join a discussion on censorship

Countries such as Britain and the United States are closing off in fear of The Other.

In response, the Singapore International Festival of Arts is asking Singaporeans to open their kitchens to strangers for free cooking lessons and also join an open discussion on how theatre should be censored here.

At the national arts festival this year, which runs from June 28 to Sept 9, ticketholders can also watch master film-makers at work and be filmed themselves.

The theme this year is "enchantment".

"It's about how to maintain enchantment in this age of disenchantment," says festival director Ong Keng Sen. His team revamped half the programme after the Brexit vote and election of US President Donald Trump last year.

It is Ong's last year at the helm and he originally planned to tie up the past three years' exploration of artistic and post-colonial legacies, as well as future trends.

However, he says, current events demanded an immediate response. Enchantment is a call to retain hope, excitement and pleasure in the world even as xenophobia rises and culture wars are fought within nations.

"It's also a reminder that we have to be generous in these times when we are faced with increasing aggression," he says.

In other words, dialogue and engagement with those of differing tastes and views are key.

From June 28 to July 2, 150 volunteers will offer feedback on three scripts-in-progress, in a participatory event called Open Parliament. Their discussion will be open to the public and held, appropriately, at the Chamber in the former parliamentary building, now known as The Arts House.

To find these volunteers, festival organisers are holding an open call from now till March 21. They hope to find participants from various fields - the arts, entertainment and media, education, youth and community services, legal, business and trade as well as housewives.

The intent is to have a cross-section of Singapore's population based on the electoral register.

Rehearsals will be minimal and no performance experience is required. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old.

Open Parliament is part of The O.P.E.N., a season of talks, performances and exhibitions that in previous years was followed by a month-long break before the main season. This year, however, the festival runs continuously, in response to audience feedback and also to mark Ong's final year.

Leading into the main festival is the Open Kitchen, inspired by Lebanese chef Kamal Mouzawak's Make Food, Not War movement.

Artist Noorlinah Mohamed will get 18 Singapore residents who cook at home to teach a favourite recipe to strangers and share their stories about this dish with participants.

There will be 15 commissions from Singapore at this year's festival, including graphic novelist Sonny Liew's first theatrical venture. He will bring a still untitled comic to the stage.

Singaporean director K. Rajagopal will adapt Balli Kaur Jaswal's debut novel about Punjabis in Singapore, Inheritance, into a 60-minute film of the same name.

Ticketholders will be part of the filming, moving around the sets and may appear on screen when the final work is aired at the end of the festival.

The festival has also invited award-winning Filipino film-maker Lav Diaz - the winner of the Golden Lion at last year's Venice Film Festival - to film a new work, Henrico's Farm, in Singapore.

It will focus on domestic workers who spend most of their lives away from the Philippines.

From kitchen to screen, the idea is to showcase the diverse stories that make up Singapore.

Ong says: "We're looking at Singapore as a focal point, a conflation of cultures. We bring to the table not one community, but many communities."

•The Singapore International Festival of Arts runs from June 28 to Sept 9, starting with the Open Parliament from June 28 to July 2.

To volunteer and participate in the Open Parliament, or to find out more about the event, write to angelo@artshouse.sg by March 21.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'Enter a stranger's kitchen this Arts Fest'. Print Edition | Subscribe