A Biennale that is close to heart and home

A Biennale that is close to heart and home

I have lost count of the number of people I have spoken to, the number of faces I have watched, the number of expressions I have studied in the past 1-1/2 weeks of covering the 2013 Singapore Biennale.

It is inevitable. That on an event of this scale, we will love some artworks and be indifferent to others. The event has brought together 100 artworks by 82 artists and artist collectives. By last Sunday, 65,020 people had visited the various Biennale venues predominantly in the Bras Basah area. This includes indoor visitorship to all the museums only.

But the big shift this year's Biennale - the fourth since 2006 - has made is this: It has gotten people to re-look art from this part of the world.

The focus of the event, which opened on Oct 25 and will run until Feb 16, is South-east Asia. As a result, it does not have the sameness many international events of this nature tend to have. The artworks are fresh - of the 82 artists and art collectives featured in the 2013 Biennale, 67 are commissioned and there are several new artists to be discovered. This makes it different from other biennales where the same artists whose works made a splash in one international show often end up travelling to the next.

The organiser, the Singapore Art Museum, took a risk this year by moving away from the international names who had headlined previous Singapore Biennales. They include Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi, who had converted the Merlion into The Merlion Hotel in 2011, and Berlin-based duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, who had presented their German Barn installation that same year.

For this year's instalment, a total of 27 co-curators drawn from across South- east Asia - a departure from the much smaller curatorial teams of earlier Biennales - scoured the region for not only prominent artists but also young and emerging talent. The result: It has been a risk worth taking. I am confident some of the Biennale works will travel elsewhere because they tell our stories as only we can.

These stories are rich. They have made me think. They have made many people I have interviewed pause and think too. And they tell me that when it comes to art-making, we have gotten over our colonial hangover and can be proud of our own narratives.

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