MALAYSIA - Singapore will again be part of this year's George Town Festival in August as the two islands celebrate their common history through the arts.
The month-long George Town Festival, which began in 2009 to commemorate the old city's listing as a Unesco World Heritage site, has grown into one of the most popular arts festivals in Malaysia.
Singaporean artists have taken part in the festival since it started. Last year, comedian Kumar and pop artist Justin Lee staged shows and showed art as part of the Causeway Exchange, an initiative to promote Malaysia-Singapore ties through the arts.
This year, actor-producer Tan Kheng Hua has created the SIN-PEN Colony project for the festival, which consists of a play, a supper club, a playwright exchange programme and a showcase of Singapore design.
SIN-PEN is the codename for the Singapore-Penang flight that she takes regularly, up to twice a month. It was her frequent visits on these flights and strong feelings about Penang which inspired her to come up with the project. She fell in love with Penang during her first visit more than 15 years ago. Tan first took part in George Town Festival in 2009, when she was invited to perform a monologue.
"The SIN-PEN Colony is about celebrating our shared culture and heritage as well as our differences. That was the main inspiration for me," she said.
Her husband, actor-director Lim Yu-Beng, will direct a play called 2 Houses, which he wrote. It tells a fictitious story of two old families of Penang, and will be staged in one of Penang's grand colonial mansions. The audience will follow the actors around the house as different scenes are acted out in different rooms. The cast and crew are a mix of Malaysians and Singaporeans. The cast from Singapore include Seong Hui Xuan, Matt Grey, Bright Ong, Pavan Singh, Linden Furnell and Lian Sutton.
Singaporean chef Malcolm Lee of Candlenut restaurant will helm a Singapore-Penang supper club at popular destination China House. It will feature Peranakan-inspired dishes such as buah keluak ice cream, steamed red curry souffle of cod fish and tiger prawns, and dry pork cheek curry with fresh herbs and green peppercorn.
SIN-PEN Colony's playwriting workshop for six Malaysian and Singapore youths will be conducted by Singapore-based Malaysian playwright Huzir Sulaiman.
The local design showcase, called Singapore House 2, is a reprise of a project which was started last year by Malaysia-based restaurateur and hotelier Narelle McMurtrie, and which she collaborated with Tan on.
The first edition of Singapore House featured designs by fashion designer Ong Shunmugam, bag designer Ling Wu, watch label Edypoi and milliner Heads of State Millinery.
This year, Tan is leading the team behind Singapore House 2, which will showcase Singapore talent in retail, music, arts and food in various venues. A pre-war shophouse will become a temporary home for Singapore stores such as Books Actually, and host art installations and indie musicians. Visual artists Sam Lo (aka Sticker Lady) and Alan Oei, and indie musicians The Sam Willows and Inch Chua have confirmed that they will participate.
Said Tan: "Art is one of the strongest links to bind people together."
George Town Festival director Joe Sidek would agree. He sees art as a force which can heal the rifts in Malaysia's social fabric. That is why this year's festival will feature two of Malaysia's most beloved icons - cartoonist Lat and the late actor P. Ramlee. However, he said it is too early to disclose details on how the two may be featured.
George Town Festival's focus is on the ordinary people of Penang, and festival events are often held in public spaces. Its ideas - such as street murals - have been copied elsewhere, but George Town continues to keep things fresh. Last year, it was a series of "secret gardens" constructed around the city for visitors to stumble upon, and this year, it will be quirky chairs, also for people to chance upon.
This year's festival will be held from Aug 1 to 31 in George Town. For more information, go to georgetownfestival.com
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.