Yawning Bread. July 2007

My kissing project, part 3




It's out in the blogosphere by now: the Media Development Authority (a euphemistic name for the State Censors) has finally replied with a refusal to issue a licence for my photo exhibition.

For background, please read My kissing project, part 1 and part 2.

The phone call came at about 5 pm on Monday, 30 July, just 48 hours before the exhibits already prepared and paid for were to be unveiled.

The Veronica Looi of the emails phoned me and asked me what address she should courier a letter to. She did not volunteer what the letter would be saying until I asked her directly. She then said it was a rejection letter.

I asked for a reason. She said, "please hold on" and passed me to Amy Tsang, the Deputy Director of Media Content. Tsang then said the exhibition licence was denied because my photographs would "promote a homosexual lifestyle" her words.

I immediately pointed out how inconsistent that was. Same-sex kissing can be found in films and in theatre. I don't recall what exactly she said in response to that - probably nothing of consequence. However, the formal letter that came the next day by courier tried to address this point. 

I will leave readers to judge how "world-class" is the logic

Dated 30 July 2007

Dear Mr Au,


Please refer to your application to hold the above photo exhibition at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road from 1 - 15 August 2007.

2. We would like to inform you that we are unable to accede to your request for an exhibition as the content exceeds our current guidelines. Presently, homosexual content are allowed in the appropriate context but they should not be of a promotional or exploitative nature. Hence we have allowed brief same-sex kissing in plays and in R21-rated films. But the proposed exhibition (comprising 80 colour photographs), which mainly focuses on homosexual kissing is deemed to promote a homosexual lifestyle and cannot be allowed.

Tours sincerely

Amy Tsang (Ms)
Licensing Office (Arts Entertainment)
Media Content Division

Kiss and tell

Thus, the "Kissing" exhibition is cancelled. In its place, I will give a brief public talk titled "Kiss and tell" which will include the appropriate powerpoint slides to enable the audience to grasp the subject matter, as well to judge for themselves if the MDA was acting fairly and impartially as the civil service should, or whether it was furthering its own moralistic agenda.

In fact, I will give the talk nine times, on the following dates and times. It will be a short talk, prior to the respective main programs:

Day Date Time The main program that evening
Wed 1 Aug 19:30h Opening reception
Fri 3 Aug 19:30h Walking out from the shadow
Sat 4 Aug 19:30h Does likeness matter? (Tong bu tong)
Sun 5 Aug 15:00h Lost and found
Sun 5 Aug 19:30h Tall tales and short stories
Mon 6 Aug 19:30h Relationship myths
Tue 7 Aug 19:30h Sexual orientation in international law
Fri 10 Aug 19:30h Wei Ming is a Chao Ah Kua
Sun 12 Aug 19:30h ContraDiction

All the nine talks will be held at:

72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road,
Singapore 239007.

See the map here. Admission is free.

At each of these times, if you ask me nicely, I will show you my private album containing the complete set of pictures.

I will not put the pictures on the web. They will stay as silent witnesses to the censorship we have to endure, but I am confident they will outlast the enforcers. There will come a day when the system crumbles, and then these photographs will be exhibited in a manner they were meant to be, I hope along with videos from Martyn See, and works by many others which have also been shabbily treated. They would make a joyous celebration of the real freedom we have never tasted since the republic was founded.

* * * * *

The reader who posted the first comment to Part 2 was surely right. The MDA deliberately delays giving a decision until the very last minute. It seeks to get the artist to invest time and money setting up his show, so that they can have him at the throat. "Blackmail" was the word the reader used. Quite apt.

Imagine a theatre company spending tens of thousands of dollars hiring actors to rehearse a play, building the set, getting costumes and signing a contract to rent the performance space, only to be told 2 days before curtain call that it must be cancelled or changed significantly.

The MDA wants artists to know they can be burnt financially if they do not play safe. Presumably the MDA wants to hurt daring artists badly enough so that they will not try to test their boundaries again. Indeed, this is entirely congruent with the great specialty of the Singapore system, which is to promote self-censorship so that the censors themselves don't have to look bad to the outside world.

Yet, Singapore wants to have buzz, to become an arts hub and all that. Creativity is to be encouraged and rewarded, the mantra goes. No one seems to understand, you can't have buzz without edgy stuff, and you can't have edgy stuff without going to (and sometimes crossing) the edge. You can't have creativity when self-censorship prevails. 

If the MDA's great strategy is to burn people who get close to the edge, then we must be a very unintelligent island. We spend taxpayer money to hire civil servants whose job is to defeat our own ambitions. Imagine that.

Yawning Bread 





1 Aug 2007: Associated Press did a story on this and it went out immediately on the International Herald Tribune. Link.