Feast on art: Singapore Biennale returns from Nov 22 to March 22

In the Skin of a Tiger: Monument to What We Want (Tugu Kita) by Sharon Chin, pictured on Nov 20, 2019. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Biennale is back from Nov 22 to March 22.

The four-month event, set to the title Every Step In The Right Direction, features artworks by more than 70 artists and collectives from South-east Asia and beyond in about 10 venues - such as the National Gallery Singapore, Gillman Barracks and Lasalle College of the Arts.

The public can also look out for performances, talks and other events, some of which are happening on the opening weekend: Phare, The Battambang Circus will perform a circus show at Far East Plaza, and Taiwanese artist Chang En-Man will prepare and wrap aboriginal millet dumplings with snails at the Telok Ayer Arts Club.

The Singapore Biennale is organised by the Singapore Art Museum and helmed by artistic director Patrick Flores, working alongside six other curators.

"I'd like to consider the title as an invitation for the public to think about the world we are in today, and an inspiration for them to take steps to make it better, or do something different about it," Dr Flores told The Straits Times during the biennale's vernissage or preview on Wednesday (Nov 20).

"We want to widen the art sphere of the biennale as a platform. The biennale has been subjected to criticism that it has become an echo-chamber in the contemporary art world. So we want to extend (it) beyond the normal precincts of the art world to reach out to a wider audience. This is why I conceptualised a 'festival seminar' model so the biennale addresses different concerns. I want to recover the joy, and the pleasure of the public encountering or confronting a rich diversity of media through contemporary art."

During a speech to members of the arts community on Tuesday (Nov 19), Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said she would like the biennale to inspire people, act as a platform for spotting new talent, promote conversations among those from different backgrounds and be accessible to underserved groups as well as the less mobile.

To further these ends, multilingual tours at the National Gallery Singapore and Gillman Barracks titled Kopi, Teh, and Contemporary Art, for instance, have been designed with seniors in mind. Merdeka and Pioneer Generation card holders can also visit ticketed Biennale venues (but not ticketed events) for free.

The last edition of the Singapore Biennale ran from late 2016 to early 2017 and drew 600,000 people - nearly half of whom came from overseas.


  • WHERE: National Gallery Singapore, Gillman Barracks, Lasalle College of the Arts, Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore Art Museum (hoarding), SAM at 8Q (hoarding), National Museum of Singapore, Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, National Library, SMU de Suantio Gallery, Far East Plaza, Wild Rice @ Funan

    WHEN: Nov 22 to March 22

    ADMISSION: Free and ticketed. Merdeka and Pioneer Generation card holders can attend ticketed venues (but not ticketed events) for free

    INFO: Visit www.singaporebiennale.org. Additional events have also been held in collaboration with groups such as Drama Box and the Indian Heritage Centre.

"We hope to reach out to more overseas visitors this round as we strengthen the number and quality of offerings, with the Biennale coinciding with Singapore Art Week and S.E.A. Focus," Ms Fu added, referring to the showcase of contemporary South-east Asian art.

This year, five artists involved in the biennale have also been shortlisted for the Benesse Prize, which comes with a cash award of 3,000,000 yen (S$37,500) and the chance to have work exhibited or collected at Benesse Art Site Naoshima in Japan.

The prize was presented at the prestigious Venice Biennale between 1995 and 2013 and has been awarded at the Singapore Biennale since 2016, when it was given to Thai artist Pannaphan Yodmanee for her large-scale mixed-media mural.

This year's finalists are Singapore performance artist Amanda Heng, who is revisiting her Let's Walk series; Robert Zhao Renhui from Singapore, for his cabinet of curiosities with objects from the forest next to Gillman Barracks; Thai artist Dusadee Huntrakul who has reproduced 16 ceramic reproductions of ancient pots, with modern inscriptions next to them; Turkish artist Hera Buyuktasciyan for her wood and metal installations; and Haifa Subay from Yemen who has created nine murals responding to issues such as child recruitment and the casualties of landmines.

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