Dictators and communists at Singapore's M1 Fringe Festival 2012

Dictators and communists at Singapore's M1 Fringe Festival 2012

This year's Fringe highlights tackle Asia’s modern social fabric, including a timely parody dubbed "Kim Jong Phil"

A strong platform for small but high-quality art, Singapore's M1 Fringe Festival 2012 returns to cast a critical eye on art and faith, while invariably shedding some light on Asia’s modern social fabric.

Visitors checking out this year's Singapore's M1 Fringe Festival 2012 can expect to see performances and visual art exhibitions that highlight some of these keystones of Asian society, a region deeply rooted in tradition yet continuously transforming.

Here are five top Fringe acts that focus on some of these diversities and complexities.

Triple Gem

Htein Lin tackles the Buddhism's Law of Nature in his latest installation piece.

Where:Esplanade -- Jendela Visual Arts Space

When: February 15-26

An extraordinary artist and activist involved in Myanmar’s freedom struggle, Htein Lin has fought in border jungles, seen the dark insides of his country’s prison cells more than once and risen above it all to produce great art.

In this installation art piece, Htein Lin explores the tenets of Buddhism.

“This work is about the Triple Gem or three treasures of Buddhism: Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha (monks), in particular the Dhamma or Law of Nature,” he tells us.

“I first really practiced meditation in jail, and then later outside. With that I began to understand the Dhamma and want to share this experience with a wider audience through my artwork. I hope that others can enjoy it and perhaps reap the same benefits as I have from Dhamma and meditation.”

The Necessary Stage -- Singapore

"The Necessary Stage" takes a humorous look at Singapore's existential anxieties.

Where: Esplanade Theatre Studio

When: February 15-18, 8 p.m.; Matinees at 3 p.m. on February 18 and 19

Given Asia’s colonial past and rapid development, a lot of its identity is very much still in the making.

This play looks at the moulding of one of the region’s youngest and most pliable societies, Singapore, and asks, what gives a country its name?

A host of historical characters appear in various real and fictitious situations -- including the under-credited colonial builder of early Singapore, William Farquhar, and his Malay mistress -- to examine with humorous honesty the strengths, weaknesses, quirks and truths that go into the making of Singapore.

First performed at the Singapore Arts Festival 2011.

Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa

"Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa" addresses the Malaysian language and its poeticism in relation to Islam.

Where: The Substation, Singapore

When: February 16-18, 8 p.m. with a matinee at 3 p.m. on February 18

The roots of Islam are laid bare in a trilogy of mini-plays dubbed "Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa," or, "Offerings for the Victims of Amnesia."

Another thought-provoking piece from Singapore’s excellent Malay theatre group Teater Ekamatra, the trilogy addresses fate and gender difference ("Genap 40"), sexuality ("W.C.") and social justice ("94:05").

Playwright and director Irfan Kasban says, “Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa charts the evolution of the Malay language and examines its poeticism in relation to Islam. How the choice of words and sentence structure matters to accurately represent a religious text.

"It also looks at how some of our religious practices and art forms are in fact cultural. For example, 'W.C.' features a well-known folk song, 'Joget Pahang,' made famous by the late P. Ramlee in his movie 'Hang Tuah' which has a prayer as part of the song. But as much as the work is in Malay and about Islam, the universal message still stays, I hope.”

Kim Jong Phil

"Soldiers love me (In a respectful way)."

Where: ION Art Gallery, Level 4, ION Orchard

When: February 15-26

Given North Korea’s Kim Jong Il’s recent death, the staging of this exhibition featuring visual art by British artist Phillip Toledano is most timely.

Toledano has taken communist artworks depicting dictators from various Asian countries and had them recopied in China with his own visage replacing that of the deified leaders.

The result is a tongue-in-cheek take on communist culture and a clever deconstruction of the myth of the Great Leader. Satirical and humourous.

Cultural Identities:We Oui!

Candid and often happy, Fumiko Imano's photos show that one can learn to be at home in different skins.

Where: The Atelier, National Museum of Singapore

When: February15-26

In Asia there is a constant tug between the traditional and modern, East and West. Japanese artist Fumiko Imano, who has lived in Brazil, Britain and Japan, explores the plurality of her Asian identity by creating an identical twin for herself.

This "twin" sister appears alongside the artist in collage-style photographs and videos in various settings. Both twins are her and yet they are different selves -- a paradox that is at the heart of a multiple cultural identity.

But it is not necessarily a problem, as these artworks depict. In fact Imano tells us how she draws strength from her twin, in her uniquely Japanese way: “ When I feel very depressed, I find that if I am twins, I can be more cheerful and start loving my life again.”

Elaine Ee writes about Singapore, the city she lives in, covering the arts, events, personalities and social issues. Her stories have appeared in Time Out SingaporeTatler HomesFood & Travel and Jetstar Asia. She’s also an editor at publichouse.sg, a Singapore community-driven website run by socially conscious denizens. When she’s not at her laptop, she practises Bikram yoga, spends time with her three kids and makes it a point to keep trying something new. 

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