M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

M1 Singapore Fringe Festival: Taking on tough issues

Festival line-up examines racial, personal and national identity; two shows are dropped for exceeding R18 guidelines

Next year's M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, which is on from Jan 4 to 15, pushes the boundaries more than usual with the intimate theme Art & Skin.

Two shows, now cut from the line-up, exceeded R18 guidelines, according to the Infocomm Media Development Authority last month.

Undressing Room by Singaporean dancer Ming Poon and performance lecture Naked Ladies by Canadian Thea Fitz-James were also targeted online and called "obscene" by anonymous members of a Facebook group calling itself Singaporeans Defending Marriage And Family.

The first could involve nudity as the dancer and an audience member undress in private - the idea being to relate to a stranger without the "protective skin" of clothing. The second is a lecture given in the nude to address public perception of the female body.

Last week, artists network Arts Engage called the ratings denial "retrograde moral policing". The authority defended its stance, saying: "Artistic expression cannot be an end in itself, without due consideration for social mores."

The fringe festival, started by The Necessary Stage in 2005, often fuels conversations about art and censorship. In 2012, it gave a platform to Loo Zihan's recreation of Josef Ng's controversial performance art piece Brother Cane. When Ng snipped his pubic hair with his back to an audience here in 1993, many were outraged over this so-called obscenity in performance art.

The 2017 line-up tackles problems of personal, racial and national identity. All need to be navigated in an increasingly unfriendly world.

In a statement, festival organisers explain the theme: "Humans throughout history have tried to manipulate their skin and identity, either to assert their difference or to assimilate into the majority.

"In an age where issues pertaining to the right to belong to a country, to dress according to one's preferred gender expression, or to assert one's religious identity are debated more aggressively than ever, let's look beyond appearances."

The festival also offers a platform for artists to develop and present new work, such as the sold-out Fresh Fringe on Jan 14, a new segment where artists present works still in progress.

Also supported by the fringe festival next year is Singapore-based Italian director Alessandra Fel's Under My Skin, which examines the trauma many women suffer when they lose themselves in the new identity of motherhood.

Singaporean theatre-maker Tan Liting channels her angst over being mistaken for a boy into Pretty Butch, a play about gender stereotypes.

Finally, 10 men and women of different nationalities based in Singapore form a burlesque troupe, aiming to open some eyes to xenophobia as they take off their clothes. Skin In SIN puts the issue of race front and centre in individual and group performances mentored by local performer Eugene Tan and American performance artist Madge Of Honor.

Festival organisers said in a statement released yesterday: "Through history, the arts have demonstrated its power to open minds and hearts, to transform and heal, and to inspire - if not effect - real, valuable change. We stand resolutely for this, and despite the hurdles that can seem daunting and sometimes enervating, we are not backing down from doing what the Fringe Festival does best: challenge all that is taken for granted as intransigent, unwavering and unforgiving."

The Straits Times looks at some of the festival highlights.

•For more details on shows and ticketing, go to www.singaporefringe.com

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2016, with the headline M1 Singapore Fringe Festival: Taking on tough issues. Subscribe