Monday, July 21, 2014

Racial Harmony Day 2014: A look at Lee Kuan Yew

July 21 2014 is Racial Harmony Day in Singapore. On this occasion, let's have a look at some of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's thoughts on Race, Culture, and Genes. Perhaps teachers should share these with their kids at school, since he is the "founding father" of the nation after all?

“If I tell Singaporeans – we are all equal regardless of race, language, religion, culture. Then they will say,”Look, I’m doing poorly. You are responsible.” But I can show that from British times, certain groups have always done poorly, in mathematics and in science. But I’m not God, I can’t change you. But I can encourage you, give you extra help to make you do, say maybe, 20% better.”

“Three women were brought to the Singapore General Hospital, each in the same condition and needing a blood transfusion. The first, a Southeast Asian was given the transfusion but died a few hours later. The second, a South Asian was also given a transfusion but died a few days later. The third, an East Asian, was given a transfusion and survived. That is the X factor in development.”

(Lee used his 1989 National Day Rally address to defend the Government's programme of encouraging Chinese immigration from Hong Kong on the basis that the birth rate of Singapore's Chinese is lower than that of the Indians and Malays. The numerical preponderance of the Chinese must be maintained, aid Lee, "or there will be a shift in the economy, both the economic performance and the political backdrop which makes that economic performance possible." Without a hint of irony, Lee also took the opportunity to assure Malays that they need not fear Hong Kong immigrants taking their jobs because the immigrants will all be high income earners.)

“The Bell curve is a fact of life. The blacks on average score 85 per cent on IQ and it is accurate, nothing to do with culture. The whites score on average 100. Asians score more … the Bell curve authors put it at least 10 points higher. These are realities that, if you do not accept, will lead to frustration because you will be spending money on wrong assumptions and the results cannot follow.”

“The human being is an unequal creature. That is a fact. And we start off with the proposition. All the great religions, all the great movements, all the great political ideology, say let us make the human being as equal as possible. In fact, he is not equal, never will be.”

“If you don’t include your women graduates in your breeding pool and leave them on the shelf, you would end up a more stupid society…So what happens? There will be less bright people to support dumb people in the next generation. That’s a problem.”

Read the full essay 'Lee Kuan Yew: Race Culture Genes' by Dr. Michael D. Barr here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Boy Soldier

An old charcoal drawing of mine entitled, 'Boy Soldier'. I was more interested in the look on his face than the bullet-belt across his chest.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Art of Censorship in Singapore

Corrie Tan, Arts Correspondent, Straits Times

Censorship has long dogged artists in Singapore. It is a dull ache, with the occasional painful twist.

The most recent - and perhaps unintended - turn of the screw came on May 12 when the Media Development Authority (MDA) released its proposed amendments to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act for public consultation.

The authority sees this new move as an "empowering" one, and it could have been. But a myriad of punitive measures and caveats have left artists dismayed that it might encourage self-censorship.

Under it, arts practitioners are to be trained by the MDA as "content assessors" to ensure compliance with the authority's classification guidelines.

The trouble is that not all artists agree with the guidelines. Nor are they likely to always agree with what MDA might classify as a performance. It is, after all, a matter of subjective judgment whether a performance merits an Advisory 16 classification - no age restriction imposed but it suggests that the content may not be suitable for younger audiences - or labelled R18, restricted to those aged 18 and above. The most stringent classification is Not Allowed For All Ratings - which is effectively a ban.

The MDA argues that its across-the-board training sessions for content assessors help ensure consistency. But this in effect means that artists have to second-guess officialdom. Might they opt for a stricter classification to avoid falling foul of the authorities? Groups whose content assessors mis-classify performances could face a fine of up to $5,000, and may have their licences revoked.

It is no wonder that many in the arts community find it difficult to reconcile these measures with the supposed progressiveness of "co-regulation".

Despite its good intentions, the scheme falls back into the same template of censorship, of allowing the authorities to be the arbiter of what is in the "public interest", rather than trusting the artist to be responsible, and trusting the audience to be able to judge a work critically. As a result, on May 30, 45 arts groups registered strong objections to the scheme in a position paper addressed to the MDA.

Artists are often viewed here as a vocal minority of rabble-rousers separate from the man in the street. But these are not merely the grouses of a few. The 45 groups represent a large swathe of the arts community, including commercial heavyweights like the Singapore Repertory Theatre and Wild Rice, and traditional arts groups such as the Chinese Theatre Circle. It is also likely that their regular audiences will be supportive of their decision.

As the position paper puts it: "Artists and arts practitioners... are also citizens, parents, members of religious groups, live in the 'heartlands', and we pay our taxes - like everyone else. It is misguided to presume that artists' interests are at odds with community's interests."

I believe that it is in the MDA's interest to heed their concerns, if the arts landscape in Singapore is to continue to flourish - or risk falling into the relentless trap of "one step forward, two steps back".

The 2010 Censorship Review Committee described censorship as "a necessary tool, but a blunt one", and affirmed the need for consumers to be responsible in deciding what they choose to view. The Government can no longer act as gatekeeper, especially in a digital age where access to graphic material is a click away.

The MDA has stressed that the Arts Term Licensing Scheme is optional. This provides arts groups with a false dichotomy: to continue with the current regime where the MDA issues all classifications and advisories, or to choose to be part of a different regime that is ultimately the same: being trained to heed the MDA's specifications.

For so long, the authorities have been wary of trusting the populace with the responsibility of weighing what is in the "public good". Knee-jerk reactions by small groups of people to what they view as "offensive" performances have led to clampdowns on arts groups, without the population at large being given a chance to grapple with various shades of grey of these performances.

The arts community has reiterated that it does not champion an irresponsible approach to artistic creation. Certainly performances must be within the ambit of the law, and those who break the laws of sedition or are guilty of inciting hatred between various groups of people must be held accountable.

But the role of the artist is to forge new paths and tackle new ideas. Some of these issues may be discomfiting to segments of the population - but the arts provide a safe platform, within the realm of imagination, where contentious issues can be discussed and grappled with.

One recent example is playwright Chong Tze Chien's Charged (2010), a well-crafted army drama thick with suspense that confronted race relations in Singapore. It brought to light the secret prejudices many Singaporeans harbour despite co-existing in a multicultural environment. It received an R18 rating for "mature content and coarse language". The MDA justified: "Due to the realistic portrayal of racial tensions and use of strong language within the army camp, the issues discussed could be... unsuitable for a young audience."

But perhaps an Advisory 16 classification would have sufficed? This way, teenagers about to do full-time national service could have mulled over portrayals of racial tensions on stage and reflected on how the issue might emerge in real life.

As an avid consumer of the arts, I have not seen a single production here that exploits violence or sexuality in a way that would leave anyone vulnerable to attack. Rather, the art is mostly considered and thoughtful. It may not always be executed perfectly, but it is steeped in earnestness and social conscience.

I think it is time for us to trust the artists who have grown in our midst. Instead of fearing debate and fining a group for a piece that, perhaps, only two people found objectionable, the MDA could be a facilitator and bridge-builder.

It could bring together the arts group and audience members for a mediation session, where the latter could better understand the artistic intention of the work, and the artists have a chance to see where the audience is coming from. This empowers the artist - who is given a chance to stand up for his or her work, and improve it - and the audience members, who can choose to embrace an alternative point of view, or decide not to purchase tickets from this group in the future.

In the end, we should not expect all art to be comforting or pleasant. The Guardian newspaper's theatre critic, Lyn Gardner, wrote in a recent column: "I love being charmed and delighted in the theatre, but I don't want to be killed with kindness by artists, I want to be provoked by them and made to look at the world differently... If that sometimes means they are going to risk boring me, offending me or even being cruel to me, then I'm not going to complain. Great art is seldom easy or kind."

The mirror that art holds up to life may not always reflect beauty. It may reflect the ugliness of humanity, or its lack of virtue. But good art interrogates the human condition in all its weird and wonderful states, and puts them all on display, so that we who look gain insight into our own lives.

A step towards 'co-regulation'

THE Media Development Authority (MDA) announced its Arts Term Licensing Scheme on May 12. It is set to have a pilot run next month.

The voluntary scheme is meant to give artists and arts groups that sign up for it more agency in self-classifying their shows. This scheme was floated during the 2010 censorship review.

Right now, the MDA assesses every single production - a process which can take up to 40 days. It then gives it an age-appropriate advisory or rating. Under the proposed term licensing scheme, selected arts groups can classify multiple productions on their own.

Groups taking part in the scheme will need to appoint an MDA-registered content assessor, who will be trained in classifying each show according to the authority's classification code.

Licensing officers from the MDA have the authority to reject groups' classifications and revoke their licences.

Groups whose content assessors mis-classify performances could also face a fine of up to $5,000. Those who disagree with the licensing officer's decisions can appeal to the Minister.

MDA says this is meant to "facilitate the creation of an environment which allows arts practitioners to undertake greater ownership and responsibility for their content in ensuring it meets community standards; and to be able to directly engage in dialogue with society".

The MDA views this as a step towards "co-regulation", its term for working together with artists to define classification boundaries. It invited the public to give their comments on the scheme in a public consultation that closed on May 30.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Yuri Kochiyama, Civil Rights activist dies at age 93

In 1960, Kochiyama became acquainted with Malcolm X and joined his Organization of Afro-American Unity. She was present at his assassination in 1965 and held him in her arms as he lay dying.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Political Playwrights: Who's afraid of Patricia Cornelius and Elangovan?

Who's afraid of Patricia Cornelius, Australia's most-awarded (and feared) playwright?

“’What are we going to do with her? We never do anything with her! She’s too vulgar, she’s too bleak, she’s too political.’”

And for Singapore, the question would be, "Who's afraid of Elangovan?"

Media Development Authority bans Elangovan's Stoma.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Singapore Artist Lee Wen May Have Been Attacked For Speaking Out Ahead Of Tiananmen Anniversary

Artist In Hong Kong May Have Been Attacked For Speaking Out Ahead Of Tiananmen Anniversary
05/20/2014, Huffington Post

The flashy traveling art festival Art Basel that ended in Hong Kong last week served as a high-profile showcase for the work of Lee Wen, an artist from Singapore. But Wen's gallery debut was marred by violence when the artist was reportedly attacked.
Lee was hospitalized after a "suspected assault" following his participation in a lecture at City University of Hong Kong, according to The Business Times. Lee went to the restroom following the lecture, and woke up a half an hour later with injuries to his head and face, The Business Times reported.

The artist was rushed to the hospital and was discharged Sunday, according to the South China Morning Post. Local news sources reported that Hong Kong police are investigating the incident.
A representative for Art Basel told HuffPost, ''We were shocked to hear what happened to Lee Wen. We have been in touch with him through his gallery, and are relieved to hear that he is recovering. We continue to monitor the situation. As far as we know, it is still unclear who injured him. If it was motivated by his speech, then this goes against Hong Kong's long embrace of freedom of speech, expression and assembly."
Hong Kong's central police station did not immediately return requests for comment.
According to witnesses who attended the lecture, Lee posed a question about the value of art when the government is in control, and spoke out about the Chinese government's arrest of Chen Guang, an artist who was a soldier at Tiananmen Square during the government's violent crackdown on protestors on June 4, 1989. Though a museum dedicated to remembrance of the massacre opened in Hong Kong this year, the bloody suppression of pro-democracy demonstrators that left hundreds of students dead remains a taboo topic in mainland China.
With the 25-year anniversary approaching, the Chinese government has effectively muzzled those who would speak out. A number of activists and artists have been detained or arrested, and several have disappeared. Last month, participants in a talk about the anniversary were promptly arrested by Chinese authorities. Among them was one of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers. Around the same time, The New York Times reported that Chen, the artist mentioned by Lee at the university, staged and performed an art piece commemorating Tiananmen. He was arrested shortly afterward.
Lee is perhaps best known for his identity-driven "Yellow Man" series, and he waspegged to be one of the standouts at this year’s Art Basel. In 2005, he was awarded Singapore’s highest artistic recognition, known as a Cultural Medallion. But he has never previously been represented by a gallery, and Art Basel Hong Kong, a gallery associated with the festival -- where he enjoyed “strong sales,” according to The Business Times -- provided a grand platform for his gallery debut.
Lee has said that he continues to be confused about what happened in the university restroom because he does not remember the incident. One theory is that he simply fainted and fell. Lee suffers from both Parkinson’s and scoliosis, and takes more than a dozen pills a day for the conditions. But The Business Times noted that Lee has never suffered such a reaction before. Photographs of his battered face circulating online show golf-ball sized bumps and other injuries that look too scattershot to have been caused by a fall.
Several sources have quoted a Facebook post believed to have been written by Lee that is not publicly viewable, reporting that the artist is not pursuing the suspected attack.
Since the incident this past weekend, Lee also doesn't appear to have mentioned Chen Guang, the artist he referenced at City University. Chen was arrested by the Chinese government in April.
A Beijing-area artist, and “a bit of a provocateur,” as The New York Times once put it, Chen has built his oeuvre around the emotional scars he suffered as a teenage soldier at Tiananmen. One recurring motif is of human hair, inspired by a sheared-off ponytail he saw in the wreckage, which he says continues to haunt him.
The day before his arrest in April, Chen texted a New York Times reporter to say that “domestic security agents had been calling his cellphone ... nonstop,” according to the Times. His offense seems to have been a performance staged in his home for friends, recounting the massacre in which he played a part.
After Chen’s arrest, one of the attendees of the performance gave the Times a stirring review of the piece, which involved Chen whitewashing painted numbers that stood for each year since the protest.
“People want to remember what happened on June 4, but they can’t do it in public spaces,” the friend, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Times. “Now apparently you can’t even remember in private.”
This article has been updated with comment from Art Basel.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ethnic Quota and Unintended Effects on Women’s Political Representation in Singapore

This article examines the effects of ethnic quotas on women’s political representation in Singapore. The 1988 electoral reform requires at least one ethnic minority candidate to be fielded in the multimember constituencies based on the party list plurality bloc vote system.

Based on elite interviews, party publications and electoral data, this article argues that the increases in the district magnitude of the multimember constituencies have had the unintended effect of improving women’s political participation.

More broadly, the article shows the conditions under which electoral rules shape behaviour, focusing on how ruling party leaders in Singapore act as critical gatekeepers through central candidate selection method that have a direct impact on legislative diversity.

Read the paper here.