Words: Shah Salimat
I admire Singapore. I really do.
It takes a lot of guts to live where we are. This city is relentlessly paced. Just look around you: businessmen traversing pavements with purposeful strides, students rushing to school with heavy books and heavier hearts, even the humble Bangladeshi worker is ready for yet another day at the daily grind. (Pun slightly intended.)
For such a city hell-bent on nothing but continuous toiling and growth, it seems like almost a lost cause for the creative industries trying to make everyone just sit and think for a while. For years, I have seen many attempts to build this cornucopia of cultures into something greater than the sum of all of us. Let’s face it: being genuinely proud of a country like ours is difficult when borrowing cultures left, right and center is our modus operandi. (And we are somewhat sheepishly proud of it.)
That’s why instead of building something from the ground up, many attempts to create a cultural renaissance have taken the less-extenuating route: adaptability. We seem to be bred with an insane capability to shed the past and yet reminisce about it when the right time comes, which puzzles me because institutions like Bukit Brown and the Tanjong Pagar Railway were never really treasured until they are gone and all is too late.
But it seems as if adapting is a necessary evil in a mercenary culture of ours. We just have too many things on our plate, too many projects, too many meetings, too many places to be, people to meet, parents to feed. Which is why those who brave the masses to go against the grain and take a step forward are the gutsiest of our kind.
I look at this month’s Asia Fashion Exchange and Singapore Arts Festival with much admiration, yet with much doubt. For AFX, its previous reincarnation as the Singapore Fashion Festival never really penetrated to the masses until Audi threw its weight behind the project and it subsequently became more than just another Asian runway show. The festival adapted to its sponsor’s ways and soon became known for its opening and closing acts, but it is now taking bold steps to feature Singapore designers in its lineup. For Mae Pang and Max Tan, they may be upstarts but their malleability makes them brands to covet. Especially in Blueprint, new-to-market labels are finally getting an Asian collective voice.
The Singapore Arts Festival would not have received as much buzz had it not been for big-name acts and government support, but yet it has stood its own. More importantly, this year’s festival sees the full support of rising Singapore artists that have flourished in the age of social media. We see new acts Songbird and Sunny Side Up interspersed with stalwarts Vanessa Fernandez and Claressa Monteiro.
However, we must accept the reality that although cultural activities are becoming the norm especially in the young, it will not reach the masses for we are just a busy lot afraid to dip our toes in too many ponds. At most, we snigger and laugh at the mention of ‘arts’ and ‘fashion’ and dismiss it for being frivolous. I look to a discussion Monocle had on a country’s soft power as an increasing indicator of power and influence. If it is true, then surely someone must have already recognised Singapore wielding its shield in that arena.
Already, the young and liberal are benefiting from the perks of a borrowed culture. We may grow up a slightly disenfranchised lot, not wanting to associate too closely to binding cultures except anything remotely hipster, but from the looks of it, awareness has definitely opened what I’d like to call the modern bourgeoisie. Neither wealthy nor famous, the modern bourgeoisie still has developed a conventional taste for experimental works (Tumblr), a yearning for a muted sense of capitalistic life (Instagram) and a good dose of trolling (9gag).
What makes the modern bourgeoisie different from the ones of Marxist yore is our age of global choice. They are unapologetic about assuming a Singaporean presence in a worldly identity. By picking and choosing what to associate oneself with, the young and liberal have successfully developed a brand for themselves: one of connected adaptability, where it is not innate but expressly gestured through an understanding of what was, a tepid resistance of what is and an open book to what will be.
Already, this is fast developing. Online fashion community site Poshism is hosting its first Fashion Feud and its promotional video clearly shows just how brazen the young, wild and free are.
Here is a toast to those who are aware, to those who choose to traverse broken roads and to those who own their identities and prefer not to walk at the same speed of the rush hour crowd. Raise your glasses to the bourgeoisie of today, for conservatism will peter out with the times of the past unless it fails to adapt to the lasting now.
To all of those who toil for a Singapore they want to be proud off, Happy Labour Day.
Written with lime plum juice on the side at a kopi joint in Citylink Mall. I literally stopped in my tracks and felt the urge to pen this. I shall never forget that fire for writing.