Into the O.P.E.N.

Published on 21 June 2016

Are there potentialities in this troubled world, and within ourselves, that we’ve yet to discover? The O.P.E.N. 2016 explores this through a bumper crop of 43 events.


The O.P.E.N. may be the ‘pre-festival of ideas’ for the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), but it could very well stand as a festival on its own. In fact, this annual event has garnered a fan following quite independent of the main festival, which usually takes place a month later.

“We’re realising the audiences for SIFA and The O.P.E.N. are almost two different groups of people,” reveals Ong Keng Sen, SIFA’s festival director. “The O.P.E.N. approaches SIFA’s theme from a different angle. Through books, films, fashion and photography, audiences get to explore a breadth of issues and perspectives inspired by the theme.”

Citing Mexican fashion designer Carla Fernandez and Iranian photojournalist Newsha Tavakolian as examples, Ong says this year’s line-up of events — like those of previous years’ — embraces the different communication methods of different individuals beyond traditional performing arts like theatre, dance and music. “In that sense, it succeeds in widening audiences for SIFA.”

NEW LIGHT Art can help us build bridges and rethink stereotypes, says SIFA director Ong Keng Sen. 

PHOTO  Jeannie Ho


SIFA’s theme this year is ‘Potentialities’. “When you look up the word in the dictionary, it refers to ‘the in-between space between potential and actuality’. It’s where ideas spawn, and artists’ works traverse what has come before and what is to come,” explains The O.P.E.N.’s director Noorlinah Mohamed, who also conceived Club Malam (see sidebar) for this year’s programme.

‘Potentialities’ is about the invisible made visible. “For example, when I asked visual artist Speak Cryptic where he saw himself going next, he said he’d been toying with how his drawings could be performed,” enthuses Noorlinah. “That’s a new trajectory for him, and we’ll be making it happen for the first time in Club Malam!”

The O.P.E.N. is also a different way to learn about the world — through the arts. “Since 9/11, terrorism has caused people to be paranoid about the Arab world. And perhaps, rebels feel the only way they can institute change is to blow things up. This is a situation we want to address with ‘Potentialities’,” states Ong. “So the present is this. But what can the future be?”

While SIFA 2016 will bring in a theatre production from Cairo — Ahmed El Attar’s The Last Supper (held from 11-13 August) — The O.P.E.N. will first unpack this theme with Rabih Mroué’s mixed-media piece Riding on a Cloud from Lebanon; a photography exhibition by Tavakolian from Tehran; a concert by Muslim-Uyghur singer Perhat Khaliq from Xinjiang; and films from the Middle-East.

“We’re trying to explore a different vision from the present, which is a vision that the Islamic culture is full of radicals and fundamentalists,” explains Ong. “By introducing contemporary artworks from Islamic societies, we’re trying to build a bridge; to find the humanity in individuals, instead of holding on to stereotypes.”

PHOTO  Ramiro Chaves

PHOTO  Vincent Lappartient

PHOTOS  Bernd Schuller


Embedded in The O.P.E.N. are 22 films curated by Tan Bee Thiam. “Each film epitomises the spirit of ‘Potentialities’ — from unearthing the past and informing new ways of understanding cultures in A Magical Substance Flows Into Me, to zooming in on a pressing issue in Fire at Sea, or reflecting on one’s failures in Visit or Memories and Confessions,” explains Tan. “Each film provides an insight into how these film-makers reveal the potentialities of matters close to their heart.”

The film screenings, and all other events, can be accessed with an O.P.E.N. Pass (S$45). The Pass also qualifies you as a ‘SIFA Friend’, which means you enjoy 25 per cent off tickets to all SIFA 2016 shows. “This year’s tagline is: be open to the individual in you,” says Ong. “As we celebrate the potentialities of courageous individuals who are change agents in challenging contexts, we’re also reminded that we are individuals with the potentialities to make a difference.”

The O.P.E.N. is on from 22 June to 9 July at various venues.

O.P.E.N. SEASON Tan Bee Thiam (bottom right) curates a selection of thought-provoking films, which includes documentary Fire at Sea (above). Also part of The O.P.E.N. is Remember 30 Years to Live 65 Minutes (bottom left), a performance by Marina Otero.

PHOTO  Gianfranco Rosi

PHOTO  Andrés Manrique


Noorlinah Mohamed, director of The O.P.E.N., shares her programme picks. 

7-9 July Old Kallang Airport

“How often do you get a chance to enter the grounds of Old Kallang Airport? When the gates open at 6.30pm, it will become a playground for eight artists — with Speak Cryptic’s drawings coming to life, edgy live music and installations, and a chance to take a Berlin artist’s artwork home on your skin!”

6-8 July SOTA Studio Theatre

“Markus&Markus is a German theatre collective that contemporises plays written by Henrik Ibsen, the father of realism. In this morally affronting performance, they document the journey of 81 year-old Margot, who books herself into a euthanasia centre in Switzerland and prepares to die.”

Fashion Show (30 June)/ Conversation With
(1 July)/ Design Workshops (2-3 July), 72-13

“Carla is a Mexican fashion designer who fuses the motifs and traditional techniques of indigenous tribes from Mexico into her works in avant-garde ways. By doing so, she connects them with the rest of the world through fashion!”

Exhibition (22 June-9 July)/ Artist Talk
(29 June)/ Conversation With (2 July), 72-13

“Newsha is an Iranian photojournalist who captures stories of everyday life in Tehran through her lens. I’m actually more fascinated by her personal story — I want to ask her so many questions!”

23-24 June Victoria Theatre

“Perhat is a Muslim Uyghur from Urumqi, Xinjiang. He will change your perception of this minority community in China through his contemporary interpretation of Uyghur and Kazakh music.”

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