Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ong Keng Sen 'embarrassed' talking about Singapore in front of international artists

Interview with Keng Sen Ong, I log it here for future discussion.

Ong Keng Sen 'embarrassed' talking about Singapore in front of international artists

938LIVE reports: "I think Singapore is a country that is always 'two steps forward, three steps back'. We're actually dancing on the spot," says theatre veteran Ong Keng Sen, going On the Record with Bharati Jagdish.

SINGAPORE: Theatre veteran and director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, Ong Keng Sen has been, and still is deeply involved in the local arts scene, but he is highly critical, even questioning, if we truly have a viable arts scene here.

Ong has been an artist probably since he was a child – volunteering for drama clubs all throughout school. 

He did all this in spite of the fact that his father threatened to disown him if he made the arts his full time career. When his parents saw that he was doing well, that his work received national and subsequently international recognition, they changed their mind.

He spoke to Bharati Jagdish "On The Record", and talks about a time when he had to censor another artist in spite of being against censorship himself, why he continues to work in Singapore in spite of his frustrations, and why he has made this his life’s work.
Ong Keng Sen: I think that we have to still ask ourselves every day, "Are we still human?" I think that very often we have become machines, and there are so many layers preventing us from being ourselves. And more and more, this kind of social conditioning is really inhibiting an individual human perspective. I'm inspired by still trying to be a human being, a human person, and to be able to reach out to another human being. I think that the arts reminds of that. I can still reach out to somebody hug a person, or hold a person because of an immediate feeling, and not to hold back.
Bharati: Is Singapore too utilitarian a society to appreciate that standpoint, to create truly passionate artists?
Ong: I think the way our Government has created Singapore is they have really entrenched certain perspectives. I'll give you an example. I had a young person once say to me that she wouldn't take literature, because literature is subjective and so you cannot get 100 per cent, while if you study science or math, you will be able to score 100 per cent. And the subjectivity of literature meant that you may actually lose out in the point system in the end. And so I was very, very shocked by this. It shows how even the young person is already very practical, and this is a 15 -16-year-old. I believe that this happened in society because the Government has already created such a structure that it’s become endemic. So now, even if you backpedal, it doesn't mean anything.
Bharati: But in fact, in the Education Ministry now, we've got new people at the helm and the Acting Education Minister, Ong Ye Kung, just recently talked about how the education system should allow people the space and give them opportunities to pursue their passions, and I know you just said that back-peddling may not work at this point, but would you leave yourself open to the idea that maybe in a generation or two, we could actually start to see real change?
Ong: Yeah, but I think Singapore is a country that is always "two steps forward, three steps back". We're actually dancing on the spot. I feel like these policies - there is one person, one minister, one civil servant who says something - but in the long run, the other structures in society will actually ensure that these statements, "follow your passion", really don't work.
Bharati: What precisely do you envisage thwarting this effort to move ahead, in terms of following one's passions?
Ong: Because I feel like ... let's say even in education, if you decide to follow your passion, at a certain point, because Singapore is so expensive to live in, many people are afraid to be freelancers. I think that they would just then fall into the route of trying to earn a living. Let's say they went to SOTA, but in the end, because of the realities of Singapore - being so expensive - you wouldn't dare to really go into the arts as a full time career. This is reality, that even though you want to follow your passion, the rest of the society is constructed in a certain way.
Bharati: You’re well-established now and get a lot of international work too, but in spite of the fact that even in the past, there was no money in the arts, you did it. You committed yourself to a full-time arts career. How is it that you managed to overcome these constructs and follow your desire to make the arts a full-time career?
Ong: I do feel like at a certain point in time, I didn't really worry so much about money, but I think that if I were graduating now, with the cost of living being so high, I think I'd be quite worried.
Bharati: You wouldn't be an artist if you were just starting out today?
Ong: I think maybe not, because I would think twice before I left my job. I would really think about it. Also it’s very clear now that the scene has not really changed in the arts. At that time, remember that in '88, when I left law school - I graduated - things were pretty buoyant. It wasn't a very saturated scene. While right now actually, you can see that there is saturation in the arts scene, because we're all pushed to overproduction. Every company is doing four plays a year, or four productions a year, but there's no audience out there. This is a crazy thing where the country is saturated with production. We're producing, but there's no demand.
Bharati: Why are you producing so much?
Ong: Because our arts council is saying that you have to produce these KPIs. Therefore, very often, people are over producing beyond their desire. If you ask artists how much they really desire to make they will say that well, if I didn't have to support the company with KPIs and all these indicators, I'd do only one work.
Bharati: Why are there so many KPIs?
Ong: Because the arts is used to show productivity, and I think that this is one of the few countries where the arts is actually supported by EDB. Because the government has to show that they are productive, including when it comes to the arts. Only if you are productive then you get state funding from taxpayers' money. For me, the arts is never going to be economy. I think the arts can become an industry at a certain point when there is a market, but now, we're putting the cart before the horse. So we're saying there must be an industry, even though there's no audience, so this for me, is over-production.
Bharati: Let's talk about the audience. I understand that the Singapore International Festival of the Arts went pretty well. Figures the NAC released last year showed that the year before, arts attendance went down to 2009 levels. So talk to me more about this issue of not having enough of an audience. What do you think is going on here?
Ong: I think that it’s down to the reality that audiences in Singapore don't want to pay for the arts. If it's free, they will go. You are flying these people in from Brazil and hence you have to support the troop to come to Singapore, but there's the usual griping that tickets are too expensive. But it's true that performing arts it is a very intensive art form, because it's a “live” performance. You can't just show a video of a dance, you actually have a whole company of dancers. Let's say, twelve or fifteen dancers on stage, and everybody has to be supported. And I think that when we say “no audience”, I think there is an audience out there, but they expect it to be free. And this is unfortunate, because you cannot support a company of 20, 30 people, which is the average size when you think of a large scale work. Counting designers, a production team, it's about twenty, thirty salaries that you have to pay for two months of a human individuals' life. Two months of salary. So if you add all that up, it's very easily S$400,000. So who is going to pay for this S$400,000? A grant will cover 25 perc ent. So in the end, I think that most of the arts groups end up doing bread and butter stuff to be able to afford their existence as artists.
Bharati: Why do you think Singaporeans don’t want to pay to enjoy the arts?
Ong: Now the Government is saying, the arts is important, etc, etc. But it’s already been set that in life you should do these things, and art is important when you can afford it. I believe that this society is still very top-down. And if the government truly puts their money where their mouth is, I think that something will happen. Like, for example, this whole movement now, this "Got To Move" campaign, right? Where suddenly, 'top-down', the National Arts Council has decided that everybody's got to move, and we've all 'got to dance’. And so, suddenly, contemporary dance has become the language of the day. And I feel that will really change the scene, but for a few years. It then depends on the fancy of the government, and they will change again, and soon it will be something else.
Bharati: But isn’t it also about the international audience?
Ong: Yeah, but I think that's changed, because in a way, I feel that the government is less concerned about proving that Singapore is a global city. Right now, arts is “instrumentalised” in Singapore. It's “instrumentalised” in the sense that, okay, what is the value of arts. “Renaissance City” was at a time when Singapore was thinking about pushing the arts out to project Singapore as a global city. And very recently, that speak - that language or that speak - changed because there was a paper to say that in Singapore, we have a lot of foreigners right now - population growth has exploded - so the arts have to be used for bonding purposes. So, therefore, you can see that the arts suddenly became instrumentalised to develop community, and for me it's never going to change if the government continues to instrumentalise the arts, and not allow the arts to exist for itself.
If you look at a country like Indonesia, the average Indonesian would be said to be poor. Yet the way they feel about art - art being a part of festivity, art being a part of ritual, art being a part of expressing yourself, how you dress, how you beautify your home - like in Bali. Art is so evident in everyday life, and I feel that this is not the case in Singapore.
In Singapore, the arts is seen to be something which is external to everyday life. What I said earlier - using the arts to bond people - is the big thing. I find that quite insidious in Singapore, that basically there is no art if art is not useful. If the art is not useful, they will not support it. They will then just say that well, you know, do it on your own, you know. Find the support from the public, your public, who comes for your shows.
Bharati: But that sounds fair – the Government supports, with taxpayers’ money, works that fulfill national goals, and artists perhaps need to find other ways of getting support for works that are arts for arts’ sake. If you look at artists in other countries, they have to work hard for corporate funding and things like that as well.
Ong: And right now, we are also working hard for corporate funding, but it’s just that it's very clear in Singapore that if it's not top-down, nothing's going to move, because it's become endemic in this society, So I do feel like that everybody is working their butts off to actually maintain their company for let's say, four shows. They're doing ticket sales, they're going out for sponsorship, and I'm very sure that most companies try to spend what they can afford to spend. But I feel that we are running on a track, and basically, the speed of the treadmill is increasing, but we're just wearing ourselves down.
Bharati: So if it were up to you, how would you do it – enable Singaporeans and corporate sponsors too, to see the value of arts for arts’ sake and to support it?
Ong: There is no way in which the system can change if the economy is stacked against it. I tend to be quite pessimistic. I think that we are all pretending that an arts scene can exist in Singapore when it doesn't – when there's no viability.
Bharati: So what would you suggest then? Tear it all down? Make Singaporean artists go overseas and practice?
Ong: No, no, no - first of all, I believe that you can make art with very little money if there is a desire. But there is very little desire in Singapore. So, whenever I hear an artist saying, “well if I get this grant, I'll do it”. For me that’s not a true passion, it's not a true desire. I'm completely with this belief that Singaporeans have no desire and we are really machines working. And we are wound up in a certain way. I think for example, the arts in Singapore has a hard time because people want to just see the arts as somewhere to relax. But it cannot be. The arts is meant to be provocative, the arts is talking about issues in society.
Bharati: So if you had to do it on your own, to create a desire in people to create their own art, to create a desire in people to want to be provoked by art, how would you do it at this stage?
Ong: I think that you really have to begin with installing a curriculum of imagination. Not just a curriculum of right or wrong. I feel that that's very important, because I remember myself as a child in 1971 volunteering to do drama club. When I put up my hand and joined the drama club, I wasn't thinking of “oh, I need to get a grade for this”. While in later years, ECA began, and you needed to have certain points, and then this would help you to go into this school, or that school or university. I think that it's really about desire, which you don't sense as a child. So I do believe that it really begins in the school, and I think that it begins in a more basic way than just having assembly plays. It's not about assembly plays. It's about having a curriculum which really allows us to express ourselves. So that's one way. So I would definitely start in a school. I came from a family that did not see the arts as very important. There was no artist in the family before but it was really completely inculcated from school.
Bharati: And that would more likely organically create an environment where art isn't instrumentalised, and becomes more appreciated for its own sake?
Ong: I do feel that the Government, as it is right now, is very concerned about using everything they can to continue to stay as the main party of Singapore. And therefore ... I'm suspicious. I'm suspicious when they say "Oh, let's have this, let's have more creativity", what are they saying actually? I just feel that it's a kind of a way of defending the fortress, that there's not much truth in the idea of having the arts in society, because it's just a way to keep the elite “happy”. It's a playpen where you play in a corner of the room.
Bharati: You've said a lot of things about civil servants over the years. In fact, in an interview published on the International Festival of Arts blog, you actually mentioned that in your job as festival director, you realised that a lot of government and civil servants don't believe in the arts, even though they're working in this field, and they don't seem to love the arts. But you still have to work with these civil servants. So how do you reconcile the two? The way you feel about them and what they think, yet having to work with them to bring the arts to the people?
Ong: I think that there's a lot of fear in this country. I remember directing a play by Tan Tarn How, it was called “Fear of Writing”, where a fear starts to control, or to govern how you act. And I think that there is a fear of failure, definitely, and there's a fear that it'll be too risque, there'll be a fear that your knuckles are rapped, and so in a way, I think that the civil servants play very, very carefully.
And the only way of working with civil servants is actually then to expand the boundaries, expand the borders. So I think that this move of having the festival being run by an artist, I think this is one way in which you can actually move the borders a bit more. When I was invited to come back from New York to run the festival, I think that central in my head was that somebody said to me “Well, artists are always complaining that it's not working, so do something about it. Come back and run the festival.” So I think that's something quite important - that you do have to get your hands dirty and actually try to reconstruct and try to reclaim some of that space.
Bharati: What fears do you think are governing civil servants that have filtered into this scene as well?
Ong: I think that you can see how civil servants are just very, very afraid that whatever they do will tilt the balance. So they try to maintain the boat, right? I think it was very telling that when the Festival was run by civil servants before, the Festival didn't have to go through censorship. But as soon as the Festival became independent, the first year they forgot about us. But then the second year, which was this Festival, in December last year, we were told that we'd have to go through the censorship mechanism. We have to apply for permits, etc, etc.
Bharati: Why do you still continue to work in Singapore when you are so against the conditions here?
Ong: Because I think that what you have to do is try to transform the paradigm, unless you say “okay, I don't want to be Singaporean. I don't need to be here, I don't want to be here, I leave.” But I think that you have to challenge these borders. You have to take on these mantles to then try to transform the way of thinking. I think that it's important to be both inside and outside of the system. I do feel like that this government has created a people who would censor other people, you know. Rather than to believe that in democracy, everybody must be free. So you know, sometimes you can see that in Facebook - how we, as Singaporeans actually try to censor others in Facebook if someone disagrees with us. And I think that it's very important to let a disagreement occur, and not to be afraid of that.
Bharati: But this happens everywhere, not just in Singapore, there will be some people who will condemn another persons’ viewpoint.
Ong: I feel that people are like kids, squabbling over something, and rather than just reasoning things out, in a very argumentative way, in a very sound way. It's not about “you're right or I'm wrong”, but let's argue about it. And I think that's something which Singaporeans are not really able to do, because they are so used to being told that "this is black, or this is white; this is allowed, this is not allowed." In a way, it's complementary in the sense that the Government does not trust the public, because also the public has been molly-coddled. Nowadays, I think even if the Government steps back, the censorship system will kick into place. Because you would have the religious right, saying certain things, let's say, about single mothers.
Immediately, there will be a wave against single mothers. And I think that this is very clear for me now, that even when the government steps back, the censorship mechanism would work in Singapore. Because we are all so used to using censorship as a way to nip dissent, even as a Singaporeans. If somebody disagrees with us, we would try to make sure that disagreement does not go into the public space. So I think that Singaporeans have really been created by the PAP, and unfortunately, because there was a mono-party, for a very long time, this is a way in which we've grown up.
Bharati: You said we shouldn’t be afraid of disagreement.
Ong: Yes, yes. And the chaos, and also the uncertainty, and just to believe that good sense will prevail.
Bharati: Why are you so optimistic that good sense will prevail? Good sense may not prevail.
Ong: I think that we cannot, we cannot ensure that our child is forever safe. We need to let the child grow up. We need to let the child go through whatever needs to happen, to fall, to collapse. And I think that this over-protectiveness is a big problem. If we continue to censor all these things from happening, we're going to become a lobotomised society. We should not begin from distrust, but should believe that these are options to a better Singapore and to allow these options to play out. Everybody wants to get their way, but I think that most people would fight for society, fight for certain rights, but at a certain point, good common sense steps in, because there's no point getting a society, which is completely ravaged. But I don't think that we should be afraid of disagreement.
Bharati: Who do you think should be in charge of growing the arts in Singapore? If not civil servants, who should be spearheading this, or how should that dynamic be balanced in order to create the best possible environment?
Ong: I think that the arts should be spearheaded by the artists. Just like, for example, you would never in your right sense of mind say that well, the medical profession should be run by someone who's not a doctor. So what makes the arts profession any different?
Bharati: But of course you'll still need the Government to step in. Government grants are a major part of all this as well, right?
Ong: Yes of course, but thing is that there is a difference between funding and between -
Bharati: Interfering in content.
Ong: Yes, I think that's very clear. Because for example, in legal systems, there are administrators, there are civil servants. They're there to provide the support. I think the natural definition of the civil service is that they are meant to be a neutral service that provides the support for politicians, but they are actually without any political affinity. So in the same way, I think the civil service who are supporting the arts scene should really be people who are supporting the arts scene, and not making arts decisions.
Bharati: Let's talk about self-censorship. Do you remember a time when you had to do it, when it felt particularly bad?
Ong: In 2014, when the festival first began, we invited Zanele Muholi who is an LGBT advocate from South Africa, and we were told by the National Arts Council, “Well, you should make sure that the exhibition doesn't go overboard."
I felt quite negative about my job, because I had to ensure, with Zanele, that whatever is possibly inflammatory should not be stated with words, that we should just let the photographs speak, and that was the kind of artistic decision that I had to make, that we won't censor. We'll let the photographs speak, but let's look at the wall text, and be careful with what you are saying in the wall text. I felt quite shitty about that, that as an artist, I had to do that to another artist. And very often, I think that I'm embarrassed in front of international artists, when we talk about Singapore, because it sounds very draconian, and it sounds horrible. Sometimes, I would meet other artists and they will say that, "Well, we can't perform this in Singapore, because there's nudity in it."
In my role as a mediator, I would have to say that, “No, I think that you have to come to Singapore. And I don't think that nudity by itself, is resulting in censorship anymore.” I think it's really about taking the risk, and really about pushing the boundary, because I believe that we care about the audience. Obviously, the artists are there because they're involved in engaging the audience in some way. We care about having a dialogue with individuals, but we are not politicians.
Bharati: The thing about censorship is that often, the authorities use this as the justification: "Singapore society is not ready for this yet. It’s against our values." What goes through your mind when you hear this?
Ong: I think that it's just a way of control, right? It's a form of control that's become very strong in neo-liberal societies in the last two decades, I would say, since 9/11. Surveillance has stepped up, and it's justified on the basis of safety, of fighting terrorism, and I think in the same way that censorship is justified. Justified on the basis that it's for the good of society.
The arts is a natural ombudsman for society, where these vapours, dissenting voices, are allowed to just be aired. If Singapore is so bottled up, I feel there's no space to air any dissent, and with that, I don't think the arts have the space to be something else apart from entertainment. I believe that I've given my life to worthy cause, and I don't think that I would like to give my life to just be an entertainer. I didn't enter the arts to be an entertainer, because I can just be an entertainer without being an artist.
Bharati: You alluded to this earlier as well. Why shouldn’t it be entertaining and relaxing at times too? You have been accused in the past of intellectualising everything. What about accessibility?
Ong: I think that there is a space for all kinds of arts, but I believe that we should encourage the arts to be a critical space. By dressing the arts up as icing, as sweet icing on top of society - that's not how I think the arts should be supported. I think that some of the statements I've heard, where the grants scheme is now used to censor the arts groups, where sometimes it's as simple as, "Oh, you should not bite the hand that feeds you." I think that that's nonsense because to me, you should not speak like this as a civil service, because this is how the arts is.
Bharati: Don't you think the authorities have a point when they imply you shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds you? Why should a Government agency give money and support to something that is against what the Government believes are national values?
Ong: Because it's not their money. It's our money.
Bharati: Taxpayers’ money.
Ong: Yes. I think that we have to be aware that this is not NAC's money. If NAC was giving their money, then I believe that we should not take the money.
Bharati: And if they say, if the agencies insist, "The majority of Singaporeans are not ready for this." Why should they use taxpayers' money to fund something that they feel the majority of Singaporeans are not ready for? That’s their argument.
Ong: That’s the voice of Government, or the civil service saying that Singaporeans are not ready. Have we had the referendum about Singaporeans not being ready? And actually, the closest we came to a referendum was 377A, where there was voting, and it showed that there were equal, broadly equal numbers. So it's not right to say that Singaporeans are not ready, because if Singaporeans were not ready, you would have, let's say, maybe a vote of 75 per cent to 25 per cent.
Bharati: This was an online poll?
Ong: Yeah, this was an online poll of 377A.
Bharati: You've mentioned 377A several times, LGBT issues. How does it feel to be “you” in Singapore? Your sexual orientation.
Ong: I believe that our sexual orientation is private, and I believe that there is no need for censorship because any kind of illegal act will be caught by other sections of the Penal Code. In the same way, I believe very much that if you repealed 377A, there will be no obscene act in public, because there are other sorts of law which will catch this kind of obscene act.
Bharati: In public.
Ong: In public. I believe that your life, your desires, your sexual orientation is really a private concern. Both sides should air their beliefs, we shouldn't censor their religious right, from doing what they want to do, and we shouldn't censor LGBT individuals from doing what they want to do. “In the public interest”, which is a constant phrase, which appears throughout the constitution.
Everything is possible, unless it's against public interest. But who's the public? I think that Singapore, the government has to wake up to the fact that Singapore has many publics. It's not one public. How do you honour the different publics?
Bharati: One could say that the “majority public” wins.
Ong: Yes, majority wins, but I think that the minority is also very important. I don't think that we want to become that sort of society where everything is decided by the majority. Basically it will become - which actually does occur - let's say in Facebook. Sometimes people say something like, "if you don't like it, then you should leave." I think that's a really outrageous statement, but at the same time I feel like, well, this person who says this on Facebook is also expressing his or her opinion. I think that this whole thing has to be more seriously critiqued. As soon as there's one public for something, there's also a public against something.
Bharati: So the minority opinions need to be respected too.
Ong: Yes, correct, and that's the role, I think, of the Government, but the Government right now is only concerned about votes.
Bharati: Isn’t that natural though? Any political party would be, any political establishment would be. Some might say it’s civil society’s job and the artists’ job to fight for other rights. It’s par for the course.
Ong: Yes, I mean, I feel like artists are not necessarily people involved in civil action, you know, in civic society. I think artists are expressing certain views, and I think that sometimes people would say that, "Who are you to say these things? Who are you to have this platform? Just because you are an artist, you have this platform." And I think that that's kind of ridiculous, because you can be anybody, and you can find your platform. You can find your platform in forum letters, or you can find your platform in Facebook.
In my position as a festival director, I think that I've stood up against censorship, I've said what I've had to say publicly, because there is an accountability to the public, so if we're getting our permits two days before a show, I think the public has to be aware that, actually, it's a situation where their rights as a consumer are actually completely governed by the MDA, who's giving out a permit, and 2 days before a performance, they'll say that, "This work cannot be performed." I think that we have to be very much more aware, as a Festival, of what our responsibility is to the public.
Bharati: You express some doubt as to whether, when the Government agencies says, "The public isn't ready for this", whether that is indeed a reflection of true public sentiment. How do you yourself then calibrate what would be of service to the public, and in the public interest?
Ong: I think that the way to calibrate, which I've used as a Festival Director, is not to assume that the public is not ready. My main role is actually to put work out there which would challenge the public, rather than by first saying that the public's not ready, and hence I've moved this to the side, I don't produce this, or I don't present that. I think that very often, as a decision-maker, you have to work through trial and error. I think that you should never assume that you know what the audience wants, because you don't know what the audience wants, because, in a way, the audience is constantly changing. There are new audiences, there are maybe old audiences that would come back in support of something.
Bharati: Let's talk about something that you mentioned earlier - Tan Tarn How's “Fear of Writing”. He had said that this play is about the complacency of the average Singaporean, of theatre audiences and practitioners, because there is no danger, no real change, enacted by our works. However, which of your works, do you think, has actually enacted some change?
Ong: I think in putting up “Fear of Writing”, for example, that enacted some change. I think that the audience was, for the first time, able to look at some of the laws that affected our existence as an audience, that we can be arrested by a censorship official without a warrant of arrest. I think that most Singaporeans were quite shocked by what was unveiled in the piece, because you just take it as an assumption that you are safe as an audience, but actually, you're never safe.
The only way we can make something safe is if we all become responsible for our own actions, and not follow somebody else's line of responsibility. But I don't want to believe that the arts is about an individual piece of work. I think that it's about continued survivability and sustainability.
If the arts continued to exist, then I think that there's a voice, which is speaking critically, objectively or subjectivity. There are many different sorts of arts, but I think that this fear of the arts being something that would open the floodgates, it's not really true.
Bharati: Shouldn't it also be about opening the floodgates, in some sense.
Ong: Yes, I think so, but I think –
Bharati: By enacting some sort of change?
Ong: No, I think that the arts has a role to play in relation to opening up other possibilities to different members of the audience. I think that it's also about, in a way, the humanist value of art. That when you are hearing about, let's say, a marginal character's trauma or turmoil, you begin to understand how these individuals live their lives. There's a validity to this feeling and, just because you disagree with her, does it mean that she should be censored? For me, theatre is a space where we hear other opinions, and that's why theatre is so important, because in these spaces, where you hear other opinions, then you begin to actually accept that there are other opinions, and not just one opinion.
Bharati: To what extent do you feel the authorities can afford to release more information on the deliberations that go on behind certain controversial decisions they make in terms of censorship?
Ong: I would like to have more transparency, definitely. For me, it's not so much about giving the dissenting voice what they want, but I think that we have to see how these decisions are being made. There is always a fear about this, because as soon as you are transparent, you can be critiqued. I think that what happens is that, very often, decisions are made in an opaque way, so that you cannot be critiqued.
Bharati: Within the constraints of today’s Singapore and how you say society has been “constructed”, how do you hope to use the arts to enact change in this regard?
Ong: I think that in the next year of the festival, we have to put the test on art itself. What if the art is not useful? That means that if art is for art's sake, if art is for beauty, or if art is for minority interest, can we still support art? In the larger sense of the word, what if we let the artist’s trajectory, or individual's trajectory become important. That's the stake that we are at, that means that what if the art is not reflecting our history, what if the art is not social-political, what if the art is about an indulgent individual's perspective? Is that still important? I think that's really the burden that the Arts Festival has to take on in its next few years, which is that do we support an individual's trajectory, even though this individual's trajectory is not useful for society. 

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