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We Can! Arts Fest examines gender-based violence through art

Families, artists, feminists and performers gathered at Singapore Art Museum on Sunday for the third annual We Can! Arts Fest.

We Can!, which stands for "We Can End All Violence Against Women", is a campaign against gender-based violence. The campaign operates under the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE).

For the past two years, the Arts Fest has drawn hundreds of members of the public to explore and discuss gender-based violence through art installations, theatre, panel discussions, workshops and spoken word performances.

This year was no different, featuring the work of many Singapore-based artists: Holly Worrall, Goya van den Berg, Skye O’tool, Lincoln Lim, Adia Tay, Amanda Lim, Malaika Green, Stephanie Dogfoot, Zarifah Anuar, Deborah, Emmanuel, Jaclyn Chan and Tan Li Jen.

Apart from performances, workshops and discussions were also held. Among them was Big Words, Small Talk, a discussion moderated by Raksha Mahtani and featuring Kirsten Han, Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib and Zubee Ali as speakers. The discussion encouraged all participants to talk about methods to foster effective communication, and how to have conversations that truly lead to an exchange of ideas.

Another discussion, "Super Sheroes" by UN Women, covered the topic of the portrayal of women in graphic novels and how there needs to be a diversity of female representation in the novels. Examples such as how males tend to be portrayed as more heroic than females and how women have to be in danger then the males will step up and take up the heroic role.  In the discussion, it is agreed that it is not just addressing the lack of female representation but also the need to move away from the hegemonic male representation.

The Art Fest also invited authors Neil Humphreys and Danyya Ateera to be keynote speakers for the event. Humphreys expressed his opposition to violence against women and girls and Ateera shared her experiences of family violence with the audience, as detailed in her book Even in Silence.

Nabilah Husna, We Can! Campaign Coordinator at AWARE said that the Art Fest has a different message and different angle each year. An arts festival allows volunteers to engage the community through a variety of ways.

She added, "It is a huge way for the volunteers and the Changemakers who work with us to showcase what they have created in the last year, to speak about the theme and topic in a creative way and I think that is what people appreciate about it."

While the campaign was initially targeted to span over just three years, the organising committee has decided to morph it into an ongoing programme under AWARE to engage members of the public on the issues of violence against women.

"The community has an engagement programme under AWARE and we already made so many contacts over the last three years and so many relationships have been formed. It would feel such a waste just to end this after three years. And I think for the fact that we can have some sort of legacy with the communities we have worked with, I think that we (should) continue it as well," said Nabilah.