15 September 2017

No kiss and make-up: Sonny Liew and Singapore's National Arts Council

After Sonny Liew won several Eisner awards for the graphic novel which the National Arts Council (NAC) of Singapore has previously denounced as "potentially undermines the authority and legitimacy of the Government and its public institutions", the government agency (despite its reluctance to spell out its direct affiliation to the ministry of culture on its own website) and self-declared champion of the arts in Singapore released a congratulatory statement whose mixture of embarrassment and halfhearted conciliation did not escape notice.

It appears that this would not be the end of the matter, and it was wrong to expect a kiss and make-up between award-winning artist and the nation's arts administrators.

So we decided to interview Sonny Liew ourselves.

28 August 2017

Au revoir, Auf wiedersehen, Goodbye Huang Jing

Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) recently accused Prof. Huang Jing, an American IR academic and lobbyist at its Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, of conniving with foreign intelligence, on behalf of foreign powers, to subvert the state and interfere with domestic politics, with the help of prominent and influential Singaporeans he enlisted.

To be fair, the MHA gave the good doctor a chance to appeal, and that appeal was eventually rejected.

Huang Jing must leave on a jet plane and never return... after an undefined grace period
But that doesn't mean that the expulsion of the professor, the accusations against him, and the prosecution of his case are credible. We've previously explained why the accusations against him are pure nonsense; we now explain how the MHA's prosecution of Huang's case completely undermines its own security narrative.

19 August 2017

Sonny Liew's Eisner win and the future of arts censorship in Singapore

When we wrote a mini-review of Sonny Liew's presentation of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye almost 2 years ago, we remarked that the graphic novel telling an alternate history of Singapore appeared to be "a pastiche of various periods and styles of comic art that were popular during the 1940s to 1970s".

In the intervening year, we bought a copy of the graphic novel and were amazed at how vastly Liew had undersold himself. Sure, Liew didn't research actually existing comics made by artists in pre-independence Singapore. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye isn't just a pastiche of various periods and styles of comic art; it is a love letter to giants such as Osamu Tezuka, Steve Ditko, Walt Kelly, and Jack Kirby, who have influenced Liew as an artist.

But his book isn't at all an alternate or secret history of Singapore; it is a self-critiquing narrative informed by a historian's understanding that official history is enhanced when it is tempered and even interrogated by the inclusion of multiple viewpoints and the appreciation of paths not taken. It is a masterful love letter to Singapore, warts and all, and a tribute to Singapore's big men and smallfolk alike, and all their dreams.

A post shared by Red Dot Diva (@reddotdiva) on

Photograph of Sonny Liew, reproduced with kind permission from Red Dot Diva

But let's talk about how the clown show at the National Arts Council has to deal with Liew's multiple Eisner wins.

07 August 2017

Is Track II Diplomacy Dead in Singapore?

According to industry analysts, Singapore is the worst place to be a property developer, the worst place to be a tech start-up, and the worst place to be a software programmer. Add to that growing list, the worst place to be a Track II diplomat or lobbyist.

Singapore has proscribed Dr Huang Jing, a US citizen and top professor at its Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP). He will be summarily expelled, his permanent resident status torn up, and his directorships in several state-linked companies dissolved if he doesn't resign from them voluntarily. The communique from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) adopts a security narrative: the professor was "an agent of influence of a foreign country", engaged in subversion and interference in Singapore's domestic politics.

Now let us tell you why this narrative is a giant fail and colossal joke, and what could be actually happening.

27 July 2017

The Apothesosis of Lee Kuan Yew VI

Can we remember Lee Kuan Yew without creating a cult?

A statue of Turkmenbashi, not a statue of Lee Kuan Yew

14 July 2017

Singapore's Speak Mandarin Campaign clown show moment

A funny thing happened on the launch of the 2017 edition of the Speak Mandarin Campaign. The poster, unveiled at the official launch by a minister on 12 July, promotes the 2017 slogan for the campaign, which should translate as "Listen, speak, read, write". Except that the third character 渎 isn't the one for "read" 读. The character 渎 actually means "diss" or "disrespect".

This is what COVFEFE looks like in Chinese. This is what sheer incompetence looks like in Singapore.

23 June 2017

Why the National Archives was no Friend of the Court

Earlier last year, we commented on the case of Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang vs Attorney-General that due to their specialist knowledge and unique mandates, the National Archives of Singapore, its fellow SARBICA member associations, or even the International Council of Archives should have submitted an amicae curiae brief to the court if they were not approached by either side to testify.

We argued that a community of archival experts could have provided their perspective on how archival institutions are mandated, given authority and institutional independence, and governed via a clear set of legal frameworks and strict operational and ethical guidelines to handle "secrets", "copyright", and "ownership".

At that time, we were confident that had the NAS or its fellow international archival bodies raised their voices on archival procedure and copyright, the case could've been settled differently, and we were perplexed on their no-show. That is, until today.