Sunday, May 8, 2011

National Identity = Art??

With globalization, it is futile for Singapore to persist in establishing a national identity in art.

Unfortunately, I have to say that even though establishing a national identity with art is not impossible or useless, but it would be an incredibly difficult feat to accomplish.

Globalization is said to be the age of cultural crisis and has created a homogeneous culture which is heavily westernized, therefore resulting in crisis in the cultural arenas and has slowly destroyed what cultural identity is. Singapore is not excluded, especially with our already weak cultural background. Singapore, as a multiracial society, does not even have a strong cultural foundation to begin with, due to the mixture of religion and tradition brought to Singapore by immigrants from the past. We do not have a unique Singaporean culture as of now, just a mixture of cultures blending together. It still confuses me until now what exactly it means by "Singaporean".

Singapore art is not any different. We do not have a unique style of art that represents Singapore. Instead, all we have now is a confusing mixture of both Western art influences and Eastern art influences, which is essence is just "Nanyang Art". However, as much as we would like "Nanyang Art" to be "Singaporean Art", it just fails to encompass the "Singaporean Spirit" and instead represents the entire South-east Asia. In Indonesia, art can be used to establish national identity among the locals as their art style encompasses their traditions, religion and culture, painting the daily life of their people and the Indonesian society. The Indonesian painters have created their own Indonesian art style over a long period of time. On the other hand, Singapore does not have a cultural heritage development and history long enough, as compared to countries like Japan, who has a strong sense of national identity which can be seen in the Japanese artworks. Therefore, it is incredibly difficult to create and develop our very own local art style that would aid in establishing national identity among our people by acknowledging “Singaporean art”, and not just deeming paintings and sculptures done by local artists as just “art”.

To be truthful, Singaporeans are not really interested in developing art in Singapore, especially Visual Arts, thus using art to try to establish a form of national identity in Singapore is very difficult, in fact, almost impossible. How many people are actually interested in pausing their busy schedule to take a look at the public art around them or take time off to attend art galleries to appreciate what Singaporean artists have accomplished? In fact, they are probably much more interested in flying off to Paris to just take a glance at the famous and renowned "Mona Lisa". Singaporeans mostly thinks that local art is not worth investing time and money on as local art is simply not "famous" and "popular" enough. They rather handle the immense amount of work piled up on their work desk than even sneak a peek at a painting done by a local artist. To try to establish a unique identity with Singaporeans attitude towards local art will indeed take immense amount of work and time to cultivate their cultural interests towards Singaporean art.

Establishing a national identity in art means that WE have to ACKNOWLEDGE that local art is SINGAPOREAN art and not just art or a decorative piece of work. We have to understand that every work that a local artist makes is part of our cultural heritage and we have to accept and be proud of SINGAPOREAN art and its importance to our country. To allow it to be a part of our national identity, we have to make it an important part of US in our lives. Until that happens, art is still unable to make its way into our history.

Therefore, establishing a national identity in art with globalization is not futile but it would extremely difficult and strenuous, and it would take a very long time to make Singaporeans acknowledge Singaporean Art. But still, it should be something we should try and put some effort in as this concerns us and our country’s future.

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