Sunday, December 18, 2005

Lunch and Dislocation

I was having lunch with Wilkie Tan. The wedding client who put together his own album.

He is an arts teacher and artist. We talked about art in general and he brought a point that made me really take note. Singapore is a migrant society and we have never taught the students about the dislocation. As a society we have not come to terms with this. We are taught Chinese history and history of the Malaysian straits, but what does this mean to the average Singaporean? What does ancestral worship and the other religious beliefs mean to a society obsessed with earning a living and materialism?

To me it seems that we have disowned our heritage. The culture, religion, ethics are not rooted in the collective consciousness of our society. We have the outer facades of our ancestry, but not the knowledge and insights of our forefathers. For Chinese, the switch to Mandarin and the break from dialects contributed heavily to the dislocation when a younger generation stopped being able to communicate with their elders. The facades now are also being destroyed for newer, culturally arbitrary structures. What this means is that we live on what must be a cultural raft in a sea raging with changing. Without a history, we are unable to build a coherent identity. We can be anything, but with no opinion or viewpoint to start from, we cannot defend or rebel. We take on various shapes and trends but are clueless to why things are done the way they are. We simply see the outer forms and exaggerate them. Like some women applying cheap make-up in thick layers turning them into monstrosities and not beauties.

I am appalled by how government bodies keep encouraging artists to be multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary. It is so hard to understand our own cultural and one art form. An un-educated attempt to put various cultures together results in a large mess of junk. A chaos that says nothing more than how untalented and uninformed we are.

As Singaporeans we have start being more engaged in our own society, and this may or may not value our ancestry. As artists, it is our tasks to understand the society and engage the audience in a dialog. It takes effort and is not simple.

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