Thea Fitz-James’ Naked Ladies (Photo - Thea Fitz-James)
The M1 Singapore Fringe Festival has announced on Tuesday (6 December) that it will not be presenting the performances of Ming Poon’s Undressing Room and Thea Fitz-James’ Naked Ladies at the upcoming edition of the Festival, as the the Info-Communications Media Development Authority (IMDA)’s assessment stated that the works have exceeded the R18 rating under the Arts Entertainment Classification Code (AEC).
The organizer said that it have been in consultation with the artists. Both the artists and the Festival have taken steps to consider the feedback given and discuss the options available to them.
It said that while the artists have expressed their willingness to amend their performances to meet IMDA’s classification requirements, the Festival believes that any adjustments and abridgments to the artworks to fit these guidelines will result in significant changes that will affect the original artistic intent.
The festival organizers stated that it has decided against compromising on the artistic integrity of these works to conform to the current AEC guidelines. Both works, in their original forms, are well-crafted pieces exploring issues of vulnerability and identity.
They also reiterate their stance that they do not believe the works to be “lewd”—to use the term bandied around by some complainants—nor was there any artistic intent to titillate. Both pieces are thoughtful and sensitive; they advocate body positive messages as well as a sense of personal candour and community trust.
The organiser wrote that it is a sad case that these works have been judged based on the preconception that nudity equates to pornography. The unfortunate irony of IMDA’s assessment of the works having “excessive nudity” is that both works actually make deliberate attempts to distinguish nudity from sexualized connotations. Ultimately, the licensing process—along with the online furor surrounding these works—deems that society at present is not ready for these cutting-edge, intelligent works.
The organizers noted that patrons who have purchased tickets for these works will be given full refunds. SISTIC will be automatically reversing the charges on their credit cards that were used for purchase. Ticketing queries from the public can be directed to the Festival directly.
The Festival said that it has been unwavering in our belief that thought-provoking art can generate important discussions about issues of the day, across race, language, religion, class and gender since their inception in 2005.
"M1 has been the title sponsor of the Fringe festival for the past 12 years. They have always stood by the Festival and have treated the Fringe Team with great respect every step of the way. We are grateful to them for being open-minded, patient and an exemplary patron of the arts," it wrote.
The Festival stated that it believes in having constant dialogues and mediation. Therefore, they want to engage in discussions with detractors.
As such, it invites anyone who has queries or comments pertaining to the Festival’s works to approach them. "We want to get to know you better in person, in a safe, private space, where we can mutually share our concerns," it said.
The Festival stated that it will continue to advocate for diverse representation and constructive dialogue and hope to share these in the coming Festival.
The festival had faced several complaints from the public, one of such complaints came in a form of a letter written against the show by Ms Tam Wai Jia, a medical doctor, entitled ‘Shows with nudity are disguising lewdness as art.’
Ms Tam wrote, “Over the years, the arts scene in Singapore has grown. Many people have enjoyed internationally acclaimed theater productions from overseas, contributing to the rich cultural tapestry Singapore boasts.”
“Unfortunately, a number of shows in the coming M1 Fringe Festival have disguised themselves as art, with the veneer of challenging existing ideals of sexuality, while indiscriminately promoting lewd content. Such art, disguised as being provocative, glorifies perversity instead.”.
Ms Tam had said in her letter, that she ‘echo the sentiments of the majority of pro-family Singaporeans and commend IMDA decision to disallow performance lecture Naked Ladies and interactive piece Undressing Room to be performed in their current form, due to excessive nudity.’
Ms Chen Yanyun wrote in response to Ms Tam's letter, "Perhaps it is good to note that censorship and policing tends to drive art underground. It divides rather than open a space for conversations and understanding. Perhaps it is also good for Ms Tam, and the pro-family community to consider why it is okay to police, to stop, to hinder what they have no intention of participating in, in the first place."
Renowned playwright, Alfian Sa'at wrote in a Facebook post about the letters sent in protest of the shows featured in the festival, "
"These letters are not from the 'silent majority'. I feel that if you ask some heartlander apek about the works you'd probably get responses like 'like that also art ah?' or 'wah, this ang moh char bor take off clothes when giving lecture, the ticket how much?' or 'last time ah, can go Neptune Theatre see topless show. But if this kind, say 'artistic' one ah, not nice one. Last time the Crazy Horse show at Clarke Quay also say 'artistic'--cannot see anything one.'
No, these are letters from a very vocal minority that sees the arts as a place where they should assert the influence of their religion. 'Disguising lewdness as art'? I'd like to hear the writer respond to someone saying that her letter is 'disguising power-hungry secularism-threatening evangelical dominionism as a complaint from the public'."