Yawning Bread. July 2007

My kissing project, part 2




For background, please read My Kissing project, part 1.

After spending a few days in May and June 2007 taking pictures, I felt I had better not rely on my assumption that getting an arts event licence from the Media Development Authority (MDA) was something that could wait till July. This assumption was not without basis because I have heard of other people getting a licence in double-quick time.

So I sent an email to the MDA on 19 June 2007 asking (a) whether an arts event licence was necessary for an exhibition of photographs (after all, is it art in the first place?) and (b) what would be the lead time necessary.

Within 24 hours, a reply came back from Veronica Vivien Looi, saying,

You would require an Arts Entertainment licence for a photography exhibition. You may submit the application on-line from the MDA website at http://www.mda.gov.sg/wms.www/devnpolicies.aspx?sid=219

Please attached a softcopy of the photograph of each exhibit, and apply the licence at least 8 weeks before the event start date.

Eight weeks? I could get virtually all my pictures taken (and touched up if necessary) within 3 weeks, and they needed 8 weeks to issue a licence? I didn't have 8 weeks since the exhibition was intended to start on 1 August 2007. At most 5 - 6 weeks.

Who would have thought they needed so much time? In Singapore you can register a company in less than 3 days and use it to swindle people by the fourth. Why must they be so thorough about a picture show? Why is our famed efficiency only true for one area while being certifiably Third World in another?

Still, I submitted an online application on 23 June 2007, enclosing small soft copies of the 80 photographs I wished to exhibit. The computer system generated an acknowledgement.

Since then, I have heard absolutely nothing from the MDA. On Tuesday, 24 July 2007, I wrote to Vernoica Looi:

It's been more a month since I submitted my application on 23 June 2007 for an arts licence for my 'Kissing' photo exhibition.

Ref: C070161627

May I know the status?

There's less than a week before it is supposed to start and unless I know the status I cannot invest money in printing the big blow-up posters. It doesn't seem fair to citizens for your side to take so long to make a decision or to expect us to risk money preparing the exhibition materials without a decision from the MDA.

I look forward to a reply.

It's now 27 July 2007, the end of the working week, and my email of the 24th has gone unanswered.

* * * * *


Kissing - the exhibition - is listed in the Events Calendar of Indignation at

It will be held (assuming MDA approves a licence) at:

72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road,
Singapore 239007. Map.

The exhibition will be open for viewing
Weekdays  6 - 9 pm;
Weekends: 1 - 9 pm.



The starting date for the exhibition is just a few days away and I am in a quandary. If I do it the proper way, with big pictures nicely mounted, it will involve a substantial outlay of money, not to mention the fact that I really, really have to start printing and mounting them now.

But what if I spend all that money and they refuse to give me a licence? If I take the financial risk and get burnt by this experience, will I be discouraged from trying to do art in Singapore in future?

Fortunately I don't have to pay for the exhibition space. Imagine other artists who have committed to pay for the space and yet not know whether they will or will not be allowed to hold an exhibition!

So what you have here is a case study of how bureaucracy stifles creativity. The uncertainty makes the enterprise unattractive. And this place dreams about being an arts hub? A centre for creative excellence?

The question most readers will naturally wonder about is this: Is this a deliberate ploy to discourage people from pushing boundaries, or is it merely a case of a slow-witted and insensitive bureaucracy? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

Will I get any answer before 1 August? I don't know. It is possible that the MDA may refuse to give me a licence on the technicality that I didn't give them 8 weeks' notice. In that case, readers will judge for themselves how reasonable that lead time was in the first instance.

* * * * *





I think there might have been 1 or 2 persons who emailed me in July volunteering to participate in the kissing shoots. It was a period when I was extremely busy and somehow I've lost their emails (or they've been buried deep under the flood of emails I get daily). If there is anyone out there who didn't get replies from me, my apologies. As you can see, there wasn't much point taking more pictures once the submission had been made to the MDA on 23 June.


Why is a simple amateur exhibition of photographs of people kissing even thought of as "pushing boundaries"? Yet most people I have spoken to about my project seem to think so. They read the government as not wanting anything that might "legitimise the homosexual lifestyle" to use the Christian rightwing's favourite phrase.

They shake their heads and wish me luck, but their faces say, "Give up, lah!"

Yet, I have proof that a same-sex kiss has appeared in the public domain before. In the Weekend edition of 'Today' newspaper, 21 May 2005, was this picture on page 10.

The caption says,

Canon make it! A kiss between Ms Natally Tan (centre, in green) and her friend, Ms Kathy Goh, won Ms Tan a Canon Ixus 700 at the Canon Flash Mob at Raffles Green on Friday. Participants danced for several minutes and then struck a pose to impress celebrity judge Perfect 10 DJ Carrie Chong. "They looked like they were having fun and they were, by far, the most outrageous people. Thatís what taking pictures is about," said Ms Chong. There will be two more flash mobs, at 3pm at Ngee Ann City on Saturday and at 3pm at Paragon on Sunday.

I'm sure the editors debated long and hard about whether to print the picture, but as you can see they eventually decided to do it. As far as my inside source knows, there were no consequences from the MDA.

Of course, if the MDA now reads Yawning Bread and raps 'Today' on the knuckles for a picture that passed unremarked over 2 years ago, then you can draw your own conclusions about how inconsistent and arbitrary governance is in Singapore.

* * * * *

I am going to write to Dr Balaji Sadasivan, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts, right after uploading this. Watch this space.

© Yawning Bread