Thursday, June 14, 2018

Calling them 'dirty' is an exercise of power

My contribution for Wild Rice's verbatim theatre piece on Sungei Road Market 

Woon Tien Wei, 43 years old
Artist, People’s Voices of Sungei Road Market, Save Sungei Road Market Facebook Group and Post-Museum

Calling them 'dirty' is an exercise of power 

If you look at past contested spaces in Singapore,
Sungei Road is actually a very successful case, despite the outcome.

We organised public tours, guerilla art hunt, pop up exhibitions to raise awareness and let artists contribute.
The key is Mr Koh.
Yes, some vendors have may have issues with him.
We can't deny that he captured the public's imagination. 

Mr Koh who kept saying that he is old and not 'educated'.
Yet he is articulate and confident.
As the association’s chairman, he spoke directly to the government, media and people.
Without fear. I met many Singaporeans who have seen him online would then travel across the island to Sungei Road to support him.

Their struggle has meaning beyond sungei road.
The vendors themselves learnt to become better.
Others will learn to become better in future contests.

In fact, the government had also become better.
Bukit Brown, Dakota Crescent. They learnt to actively engage with us, with civil society.

However, it was not the same for Sungei Road.

The association sent more than twenty letters seeking dialogue and three proposals for redevelopment.
Muted response from the government.
They relied on words like “disamenities“, “poor hygiene”, “pollution”, “fire hazards“ in their few statements.
As if they were illegal hawkers in the 60s.

Calling them 'dirty' is a subjugation - an exercise of power where the clean exert their demands on the unclean.  
It reveals the government's position.
It is not how they see the land, but how they see the people at Sungei Road.

They see the people at Sungei Road as poor, underclass who does not know any better. 
Without engaging them, they decided the vendors deserve much 'better' - real jobs and hawker stalls. 

The vendors felt left out and unwanted as they felt that they are not worthy of a proper response.

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