THE FOLLOWING EXCERPT IS FROM OUR chat Between singaporean nominated member of parliament and artistic director of dramabox, Kok Heng Leun, and artist Yom Bo Sung, Kirin Heng and Melanie Chua on 18 august 2017. THIS CONVERSATION was about various issues arising from ‘the Singaporean identity’, as well as what the arts mean to Singaporeans. Owing to the depth of each issue discussed, this Brackchat excerpt is split into four parts. It IS PART OF THE ARTIST-WRITER PAIR SERIESREAD MORE in the upcoming Energy Issue.

Featured image is of sculpture “I <3 SG” from Yom Bo Sung’s recent exhibition Step Country. For more info, go to the exhibition website.

On censorship 

Y [On his exhibition Step Country]: It was looking at social issues because my stepdad is Singaporean. It was paralleling how strict and controlling he is to how categorical the Singaporean systems are.

KHL: Do you find it suffocating [here in Singapore]?

Y: Yes, I do find it quite suffocating. But I think there is good things coming out of it. I just think [art] is not as celebrated and appreciated as it should be.

KHL: Do you think the suffocation actually makes you creative?

Y: Yes, I do think the suffocation is necessary for creative processes. I do think struggle needs to be there, if not there’s nothing to struggle against.

KHL: That’s one of the interesting things when you look at Singaporean theatre. Many of the plays are socially engaged. It’s always about themes and issues. Plays that sell well are about particular, controversial issues. The theatre people are making many plays based on that. We always scream about censorship. But sometimes in my mind, I think if you take away the censorship, you probably won’t have the same kind of attitude that we’re currently having. But of course the censorship also [is a problem]. So I think that suffocation in a way is ironically the thing that keeps a lot of the interesting work happening. Just that it may not get enough recognition, and be viewed more suspiciously.

To say we need censorship is not the correct way to say it, because, honestly, there are still many things with doubts and issues that we still need to deal with – complexities.

The problem here is that, I think, with the arts, especially with those who do socially engaged work, (or other) all very controversial work, they have a very clear “enemy” out there that they need to handle. And this “enemy” is actually quite intelligent. And sophisticated. They will [use] many weird ways to suffocate you and it’s a test of your resilience, a test of how tenacious you are. Whether you can do your work, find different ways to do it; how you have to mitigate, find a way to maintain the integrity of the work.