Jul 302012
ContraDiction organiser Ng Yi-Sheng

For its eighth edition, Singapore’s LGBT pride season will throw the spotlight on things, situations and places that are special to Singapore’s LGBT community.

Aside from being aware of Singapore’s section 377A – a colonial-era law that criminalises same-sex sexual relations between men and the widespread campaign in 2007 to support its repeal, and the police banning of the annual Nation party last organised by Fridae in Singapore in 2004, organisers of Indignation, the city-state’s annual LGBT pride season, say many LGBT Singaporeans are not likely to know much else about the community’s history.

This year’s theme “Our Very Own” is meant to help the community discover its history and heritage.

For co-organisers Miak Siew, playwright/writer Ng Yi-Sheng, artist/arts teacher Loo Zihan and the rest of the team putting together this year’s IndigNation season, the “amnesia is a cause for concern.”

“We’re seeing in young and ‘not-so-young’ Singaporeans a growing hunger for the past, a desire to understand where they’ve come from,” says festival co-ordinator Miak Siew, who works as the pastor of Free Community Church.

“Actually, we’re not so much interested in the gay community’s history as with its heritage. The big difference is that history is just the Past with a capital P. Heritage, on the other hand, involves drawing a connection from past events to the present and into the future.”

“A lot of gay history is undocumented, so we’re not attempting a comprehensive overview. Instead, what we’re trying to do is to start the process of remembering,” he added.

Loo Zihan, whose recent work Cane drew considerable critical attention with its re-enactment of Josef Ng’s 1993 performance art piece, was immediately interested when Siew raised the idea of uncovering Singapore’s gay heritage.

“This jived perfectly with what I’d been trying to do with Cane to help gay people better understand what has occurred before – politically, culturally, socially – so that they can better deal with the present,” Loo explains.

For the festival’s opening on Aug 3, it will be a double-bill. The first half “Time & Its Discontents: Our Very Own Films” will comprise short films that deal with time and history while the second half “The Morning After 377A: Our Very Own Think-Tank” will be a presentation and discussion of where the Singaporean LGBT community has been and where it’s headed.

Ng Yi-Sheng, a noted local poet and playwright, feels that heritage is important to gay people at a psychological level.

“It roots and grounds you as a person when you know you’re not alone; that there are people who have gone before and struggled and loved and lived in similar ways as yourself,” says Ng. He has been involved with the gay poetry-and-performance event ContraDiction since its inception eight years ago and has helmed the event since 2007. This year’s installment will honour some of Singapore’s oldest works of queer literature from the 1980s.

While the eighth edition of IndigNation begins this Friday, Aug 3, the team is already thinking ahead to the next two to three years. Rather than simply unpacking gay history, IndigNation, it seems, wants to see how it leads into the future.

“Most of the co-organisers are in their 30s, and we’re realising that a lot of young gay people have no connection to their histories,” observes Siew.

“They don’t know about the 1993 police entrapment cases, or how LGBT Singaporeans met, courted, and got it on in a pre-Internet age. But we know they’re curious, and it’s not just them, but older LGBT persons as well. We want to unearth and preserve these lineages for the gay community, and for Singapore at large.”

IndigNation 2012 will run from Aug 3-26 at various venues. The schedule below is correct at the time of publication. For the latest, visit indignation.sg.