Singapore’s theatre scene is never without a number of billboard performances, least of all in the month of January, during the annual M1 Singapore Fringe Festival (17 to 28 Jan this year). Into its 14th edition, the festival is well-known for its lineup of edgy indie performances. However, its organisers have chosen to take a different approach this year. Rather than its usual “Art & ___” theme, the festival will instead focus on works inspired by Singaporean contemporary artist Amanda Heng’s 1999 performance art piece, “Let’s Walk”. In line with that theme, the 16 performances this year will tackle the challenges faced by modern women today.
A Cultural Medallion recipient, Heng is no stranger to championing feminist discourse in the arts. In 1999, she formed the local collective, Women in the Arts (WITA), with an aim to advance the feminist art movement. Over the years, Heng has organised various forums, and currently, through WITA, manages an archive of women artists in Singapore. “Let’s Walk”, conceived by Heng the same year she started WITA, is in a sense emblematic of her career. The performance, which has since travelled globally to countries like Indonesia, Japan, France and Spain, was created in response to the 1997 Asian financial crisis, where female employees were more likely to be retrenched than male ones. It invites the public to join Heng in walking backwards with high- heeled shoes in their mouths, guiding themselves with handheld mirrors.
For Heng, each performance aims to “respond to the issues surrounding women’s relations to the idea of beauty, as well as address women not being recognised for their capabilities.” Heng stresses that women must form their own ideas of beauty. “I’m not in a position to speak on behalf of all women, but I feel it comes down to this: how do we want to position ourselves, rather than [wait] to be allowed the right for a revolution? If women are looking for change, it has to start from themselves individually.” Heng will reprise “Let’s Walk” for a group performance from The Substation in the Civic District to Merlion Park on 20 Jan.
This article was originally published in the January 2018 issue of Silkwinds magazine