Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman once attended a party in Lebanon where his hostess asked her guests: "Would you like to eat now or wait for the ceasefire?"
This was during the 15-year Lebanese Civil War, when gunfights and bombings were a fixture of everyday life.
The spunkiness and irony inherent in that one-liner, the title of a chapter in his 1989 book From Beirut To Jerusalem, sums up the spirit behind a fascinating two-month-long exhibition of contemporary Arab art that ended last weekend at the Singapore Art Museum.
I caught the show, Terms & Conditions, one evening during the Night Festival two weeks ago when the museum in Bras Basah Road was open till late.
A curious crowd swarmed the exhibition, having just come in from a traffic- stopping light show in which colourful geometric shapes danced across the museum's facade. But the exhibition, co-presented by the museum and the United Arab Emirates-based Barjeel Art Foundation, more than held its own, raising questions about the power of art in representing conflict and violence.
The exhibition, curated by the foundation's Mandy Merzaban, featured 16 art works that gave Singaporeans a rare window into the practice of contemporary Arab artists.
There were intriguing pieces such as Fatalite - Adel Abdessemed's hand- blown glass microphones on stands, waiting to be caressed by unseen demagogues - and Adel Abidin's Three Love Songs, a video installation in which three sultry blonde chanteuses perform Iraqi military songs from the time of Saddam Hussein. With lyrics like "by Allah we will level the enemy's necks", the performances illustrate the seductiveness and pervasiveness of propaganda among dispossessed, warring communities in the Middle East.