How do you talk about colonialism? These creatives are throwing a party

At first glance, A Weekend Affair seems daunting. Marketed as an “art-symposium festival”, the upcoming event tackles lofty ideals—the entangling of capitalism and colonialism; the restrictive model of work for artists in Singapore; heavy stuff.

But at its heart, it’s really a gathering of creative minds hoping to explore what it means to live in postcolonial, 21st Century Singapore. Happening Jun 1-2, A Weekend Affair throws together art installations, multi-disciplinary performances, a party and even a spa—in an attempt to dig deeper into time-worn narratives about Singapore. Is life as we know it sustainable and acceptable? Are there alternatives? Should there be alternatives?

That’s what co-organiser Soh Kay Min, 25, hopes to uncover. Speaking on behalf of A Weekend Affair, the petite arts practitioner at the NTU Centre of Contemporary Arts is all smiles as she talks about her side project.

“In Singapore it’s so weird now. It’s postcolonial, as everyone is pretty much (aware of), but it’s almost like it’s only postcolonial in name,” said Soh, who recently returned from postgraduate studies in London. “All these structures that we have inherited; our laws basically are still very much in place from when the British were here. (And) you kind of just don’t question it.”

So when her fellow organiser Wayne Lim, himself a practicing artist, approached her with the idea to put on a festival interrogating these themes, she obliged. It would function as a casual event, with multi-disciplinary works addressing various aspects of postcolonial Singapore. Over a year of planning, the affair grew in scale and ambition. Then from an open call done last year, they pooled a dozen local and international collaborators to stage their grand show.

, How do you talk about colonialism? These creatives are throwing a party
The Hibiscus: Spa & Wellness, an performance-installation by Divaagar

Experimental to say the least, the programme curates a line-up of young artists and presenters. The team made sure to move beyond just featuring artists—hence, visitors can look forward to a comedy-lecture on wildlife in The Malayan Archipelago from stand-up comedian Stephanie Dogfoot, a presentation-cum-DJ set from Japanese queer DJ Hibiki Mizuno, and a fun interactive art session with architect Amelyn Ng. Called Cutting Capitaland,: An Exercise in Excision, the latter is a not-so-subtle critique on the real estate giant’s methods, with Ng leading participants in a dramatic workshop of cutting up and re-pasting Capitaland advertisements.

There will also be more ‘conventionally artistic’ works, such as Loo Zihan’s performance-lecture Catamite, last staged at the 2019 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, that engages with Section 377A in Singapore. All 11 acts, which will take place under one roof, will occur at scheduled times throughout the festival’s two-day run, with a party by Mizuno and other artists wrapping up the first night.

The entire project is partly an effort targeted at exploring options beyond the existing system of practicing art in Singapore. Soh joked that inspiration came from her peers constantly “lamenting biennales and the structure of it”.

“I think in the ecology that we have here, it’s a very inculcated kind of mindset that if you’re an artist and you want to show your work, then you apply for a grant; and if you don’t get the grant, then you can’t show your work,” she said.

“It’s just a bit weird that it’s sort of like a model of working here—and not just for artists; even independent thinkers and independent researchers, everything relies on getting grant money from somewhere. You’re just hindered by this lack of money.”

As such, the entirely ground-up initiative has relied on months-long fundraising through their website and word-of-mouth. 

, How do you talk about colonialism? These creatives are throwing a party
Catamite by Loo Zihan

As for A Weekend Affair’s theme, the tongue-in-cheek phrasing is rooted in the idea of deviating from—or cheating on—an established narrative.

“It’s hard to depart from certain models or structures that are already in place,” pointed out Soh. “So the whole idea of an affair came up—if you think about the relationship we have with our colonial legacy; if it were a marriage—and a very unhappy one at that.”

But the team is insistent that “it’s not a divorce”. Rather, the intention lies in trying to step away from a narrative we haven’t thought to question.

“Like the Bicentennial—we already know it’s 700 years or whatever that is; but all of that is very academic, historical kind of research. What we’re trying to do is not just look backwards, but project forwards. If it’s like a line, what kind of weird loops could it go into? Rather than it just going in one direction, and that direction isn’t necessarily one that is healthy or sustainable.”

“It’s not a critique or anything of existing systems—the systems are going to be in place and you can be a part of them or not. It’s just gestures towards making this sort of a departure,” she added.

The venue for A Weekend Affair fits neatly into theme too. The soiree will take place at a chalet in Changi—the team’s eventual choice after an arduous recce around town for “sites of affairs”.

, How do you talk about colonialism? These creatives are throwing a party
Pulp, donated by Shubigi Rao

Other sideline activities include an evening Pillow Talks session, where visitors are free to dive into candid conversations with the artist-presenters, and an art installation in the form of an actual, “seedy” spa session. Another key event to look out for is the Raffle, not Raffles! art lottery. Happening at different times of the day, the lottery features one-of-a-kind artworks in its prize pool, donated by 15 Singaporean artists—the likes of Jeremy Sharma, Shubigi Rao, Mike HJ Chang, Heman Chong, and Weixin Quek Chong. Purchase a ticket and you might just walk home with a randomly drawn piece of local art.

Beyond just being a means to fundraise (each ticket costs $48), the lottery seeks to counter the valuation of artworks beyond their commercial value, particularly in a country with a stifled art buying scene like ours. The team also hopes that it will appeal to younger art collectors trying to get into the hobby.

“The way that we’re trying to work around it is not just trap it within an art circle,” said Soh, well aware that the affair’s target audience will likely be niche. “We are hoping that random people will just show up; but it’s okay if they don’t and in the end it’s just a small group of people. At least we put things in place to facilitate a discussion—a safe space for people to speak without feeling pressured, or like they’re being gate-kept.”

Two days certainly isn’t enough to decolonise from a centuries-old legacy. But for a team of principled, determined arts practitioners doing it on their own dime, A Weekend Affair is certainly an admirable baby step forward. Just don’t tell Raffles.

A Weekend Affair happens Jun 1-2, from 2pm till late, at an undisclosed location. Registration here and more information available here.