By Dawn Teo
A 12-hour literary event featuring 24 text-based performances running from dusk till dawn—that had to be one of the most striking items on the lineup at Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) this year. Then there was the title of the event, What I Love About You Is Your Attitude Problem, which added to the allure of this programme, curated and brought to (night)life by Checkpoint Theatre’s Joint Artistic Director Huzir Sulaiman. Surprised and slightly skeptical, we wondered about the experience and the choice to hold such an ambitious event.
Much to my pleasure, the event wasn’t a disappointment; it was a celebration of stories, the community spirit and dreams. Featuring new and commissioned works of Singapore drama, prose, poetry and everything else related to the written word, there was something for everyone to engage in—the whole time, because performances and workshops happened one after another or concurrently.
The freedom to mark out my own route was both liberating and slightly exhausting. But it was a gamble that I believe the organisers hoped, would leave everyone with a personalised literary experience.
Held at The Arts House, the entire building was transformed into an edgy space. Installations, poetry and art works donned every wall possible, while performances took place in every room. I loved that the front porch became a makeshift kitchen for cooking and story-telling!
Out of 24 performance events, there were personal favourites, namely the photography exhibition and artist’s tour With The Gurkhas, Love Songs and the performance Drawing A Read: A Different Sky.
With The Gurkhas by Zakaria Zainal is a series of portraits featuring retired gurkhas—a specialist guard force responsible for Singapore’s internal security— in Singapore, as well as children of these gurkhas before they departed the country. Each portrait was accompanied by a quote or a postcard that provided a glimpse of the tensions within and similarities among the lives of gurkhas. Heartfelt and powerful, it led to questions about the concepts of home, security and belonging.
The ongoing series Love Songs by Cyril Wong showed sincerity and realism, presented through fragments of love songs from the 1980’s, poems and the playing of the piano. It led to thoughts about the strength and vulnerability in us humans, the ideas of love and of loss.
Drawing A Read: A Different Sky ran from start to end, and was essentially a reading of Meira Chand’s historical novel of Singapore, A Different Sky. Julie Wee, Noorlinah Mohamed and Anita Kapoor used their voices to paint the images of the book within the confines of the space and the listener’s imagination, while visual artist Jimmy Ong created art. It was a feast for all senses in the comfort of my chair with the book in my hand. It was quiet but immersive and strangely soothing for the soul.
The after-effects of this programme? Over-thinking in bed after 3am, with emotions like sadness, hope and contentment coming in waves. But more importantly, it was comforting to have been a part of something so much bigger than myself. Loneliness wasn’t something I felt that dawn.
It was an unexpectedly therapeutic event, inviting attending night owls to look inwards. It was inspiring and I hope that such programmes continue in our local scene to embrace more people in the arms of the arts and literature.
Images credit: Singapore Writers Festival