Arts in Singapore visualized: A Study of Vernacular
Posted on July 17, 2013
The state of the arts and cultural policy in Singapore has always been an exceptional area of personal investment. Growing up in a nation that stands in between cultures, geographies and identities, art has always been the language for reconciliation. The immense respect and subscription we have toward the western canon is deeply embedded within the nation’s past and growth from a British colony to an independent first-world nation. While there is no mistake in the choice to follow what is simply chronological, there is a large dimension of this following that purely exists and it is this lapse that I do wish to discuss. This is where the role of the arts and cultural scene of a nation come into play, as the arts is at its core a mode of self expression and quest for self-identity.
Definition of VERNACULAR
a : using a language or dialect native to a region or country rather than a literary, cultured, or foreign language
b : of, relating to, or being a nonstandard language or dialect of a place, region, or country
c : of, relating to, or being the normal spoken form of a language
The study of the vernacular goes beyond the technical and transcends into areas where it inhabits the role of the signifier, serving as symptomatic of the various trends that exist, will emerge and of all the undercurrents that are foundational.
- National Arts Council
- Art Stage Singapore
- Arts Festival Review Committee Report
- Renaissance City Plan Committee
The aforementioned institutions are my primary sources of data collection. Annually, the institutions release official reports that may be directly accessed via their websites. These reports consolidate the past year’s initiatives, events, achievements, and includes a list of awards, grants and scholarships given out in the year. The reports also include a full budgeting statement for all annual expenses. Data collection was the primary mode of this study and is used to call to attention some of the trends that often go unnoticed. After a collating, processing, analysis and, finally, presentation, the results are as follows.
These are but 3 selected years in the study. To give a more palatable reflection of the trends that follow in the distribution of monetary resources toward certain art forms over the others, I have charted the frequency across the years with relation to one another. The graph is as follows:
As seen through the frequency of the terms, it is then based upon the assumption that these are in fact linked to the actual support and resources provided to the various art forms, that we begin to study the balance and imbalance in certain areas of the arts in Singapore.
I do not wish to draw conclusions directly and solely from these data sets; rather, to leave them open to discussion and critique. The data may exist as ends in and of themselves or may serve as means upon which new hypotheses may engender. Either way, the fluidity exists in the nature of the study and in the very fact that these reports are on public domain and are easily accessible. Before the deeper contemplation begins, there are several assumptions that, in my opinion, are worthy of noting when looking toward these diagrams and numbers:
Firstly, these annual reports do serve a purpose, and acknowledging this means acknowledging that there is a specific audience to which they are catered for. These reports will hence take on a certain tone and adopt a certain vernacular that is most suited to that very audience. The knowledge that is behind the crafting of the reports must also be noted, for they represent the formal data collection from the institution. Hence, there may very well be strong underground movements of various arts and cultural happenings in Singapore that go unrecorded, and therefore unrepresented in this study. These understandings are vital toward the temperance we bring toward the graphical representations.
Secondly, the reports are a wrap-up to a year’s worth of work and progress, and hence do not necessarily emphasize what is to come in the future of the arts and culture in Singapore. Looking back and looking forward, while entangled within each other, do provide us with different tones and highlights different aspects of the big picture. It is therefore easy to fall into quick generalizations, from the results shown above, that the relevant institutions are not taking into account various other dimensions in our cultural scene and are headed in the wrong direction. To comprehend the fine balance between reflection and moving ahead would aid in taking this information much further.
Lastly, every nation is not without its fair share of red tape and propaganda. Singapore is not any different. While I will not go so far as to postulate that the reports are heavily influenced by such forms of control, it is certainly of vital importance that we keep in mind the existence and perpetuation of these forces and the possible outcomes that might emerge. And, from there, reflect upon the possibilities that may emerge from the data sets.
“Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a weapon; the judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective; and the cunning to spread the truth among such persons. These are formidable problems for writers living under Fascism, but they exist also for those writers who have fled or been exiled; they exist even for writers working in countries where civil liberty prevails.” – Bertolt Brecht, Writing the Truth. 1935