Editorial: Bicentennial 2019 Biennale

This issue of s/pores comes after a hiatus of two years.

The minute that it was officially announced that 2019 would be the Bicentennial year we started to grapple with the inherent ironies of a sovereign nation attributing its present success and achievements to the leadership’s appreciation of its colonial history and legacy. What are the stakes involved for Singapore to embark on such a venture?

We planned to produce the s/pores Bicentennial issue after the year was over to allow its significance to fall into place properly. The busy year-long high-profile programme of events over, one might ponder over other ways that the Bicentennial could  have been commemorated, including if 2019 should have been allowed to pass without any fuss.

It would be a landmark for our journal. There was even discussion on whether it should be in the form of a chapbook.

Yet even we were not prepared for what eventuated:  Raffles Renounced: Towards a Merdeka History (Ethos Books, 2021) with Alfian Sa’at, Faris Joraimi and Sai Siew Min as editors and featuring 10 contributors comprising theatre practitioners and artists, and academics from the disciplines of history, literature, cultural and literary studies.

Do check it out at the bookshops or the libraries.

This issue of s/pores features the works of the two historian-editors of Raffles Renounced.

Sai Siew Min’s is extracted from a section of her chapter; Faris Joraimi wrote a compact version of his.

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to upend the normalcy of life since the early months of 2020, the Bicentennial now seems surreal. As we hope that we will come to terms with resetting into more viable and sustainable ways of life as a society, the call by the two historians for us to do the same with our history is just as vital.

Besides the Bicentennial which was mainly for local consumption, there were big ticket items that were held overseas in that year.  The big bangs included Ang Song Ming representing Singapore at the Venice Biennale. The show returned to Singapore in 2020 and had an airing at the National Museum.

Two reviewers wrote about it for us. Our regular music reviewer, Joseph Tham is a history educator who writes about experimental art forms. He approached Ang’s exhibition with an ambiguous lens – its value depends on what the audience want to see or hear. Cecily Cheo is an art educator, practitioner and critic. She was more critical, which is fine.

We think it is okay to be a bit more polemical in our reviews, and hopefully the dialogue will encourage and contribute to the art discourse in Singapore. We can be too polite sometimes.

After all, even the Singapore Bicentennial is not above criticism. 


Preview of Raffles Renounced: Towards a Merdeka History
Eds. Alfian Sa’at, Faris Joraimi, and Sai Siew Min (Ethos Books, 2021)

Updating the Narrative: A Dialogue Between the Former Coloniser and Colonised
Sai Siew Min

Redoing and Undoing the Colonial Pageant: Dialogues with the Raffles Statues
Faris Joraimi

Are You One of Them? – Music for Everyone: Variations on a Theme
Joseph Tham

Looking at Song-Ming Ang at the National Museum, Singapore
Cecily Cheo