Singapore Fringe Festival courts controversy

Singapore Fringe Festival courts controversy

A gay rights performance art piece is being restaged 19 years after it was first performed
Don't call him Edward Scissorhands, artist Loo Zihan is re-staging Josef Ng's controversial performance.

In 1993, performance artist Josef Ng sparked nationwide uproar when he snipped off his pubic hair in public as part of a protest against entrapment of gay men by Singapore police.

His performance, “Brother Cane,” so outraged the authorities that the Media Development Authority subsequently severely restricted performance art in Singapore.

A decade later, the ban was lifted and now artist Loo Zihan is restaging this attention-grabbing act again, this time as “Cane”, in the long-running platform for small, high-quality art acts and works: the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival (

“I was ten years old when Brother Cane was performed,” says Loo in the introduction to his re-enactment. “It was my first exposure to performance art.

“I identify with a lot of issues that Josef Ng was trying to highlight with his piece. And it is the right time to stage 'Cane' with the changes brought about in Singaporeans by the last General Elections and with the maturing of our artistic community.

“I believe strongly that it is time for us to take pride in our local art history. Re-enactment is something only an artistically mature community can accept, and I believe the Singaporean performance art community is ready for this form.
Artist Loo Zihan is not happy just to sit in silence. “While nothing has changed with laws regarding homosexuality, society is not just about the laws that govern it.

“With events like Pink Dot, the gay community has an increased visibility and presence, and personally, I feel that Singaporeans are increasingly tolerance of difference, a necessary change for a country made up of such a diverse group of people.”

The re-enactment is based on an eyewitness account by Boston-born, Kuala Lumpur-based artist Ray Langenbach. It involves Loo on stage, first wearing a black robe that he takes off after one segment of the performance to reveal a pair of black briefs.

Without giving too much away, suffice to say that Loo then pulls down his briefs and snips off some pubic hair, which he holds up for the audience to see.

The shock-value doesn’t end there. Loo goes on to ask the audience for a cigarette, which he lights -- and stubs out on his arm, unflinching.

“Sometimes silent protest is not enough,” is the refrain that echoes through the performance’s monologue script.

But amidst all these bold gestures, let’s not overlook the important details. What, we asked Loo, brand of underwear will you be wearing?

“H&M,” he says, with a twinkle.

“Cane” will be performed at The Substation on February 19, 8 p.m.;


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, 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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