I visited the Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF) last weekend. SIPF is a worldwide biennial gathering of minds commonly pursuing the advancement and appreciation of photography. The biennial event is back for its 7th edition. Set amidst a pandemic, this year's theme #SIPF2020 is "Departing and Arriving", a theme that seems extremely fitting with our current circumstances.
The concept sounds very simple, yet a complex one. Prior to the pandemic outbreak, the theme "Departing and Arriving" seeks to explore our migrant histories and identities in both the local and global context. In the process of witnessing and experiencing the changes that have taken place in our world, the theme has evolved to take on a reflective outlook at the human condition. In the trajectory of arriving at a new normal is the discovery of a deeply rooted desire for a better tomorrow.
This year's SIPF blew me away and redefined everything for me. Allow me to bring you along with me on this journey of Departure and Arrival, but with a little disclaimer – I’ll be featuring some of the fine artworks I got to witness and I do not showcase all of them in my blog. I will leave some of them in suspense, because I think there are actually so much more to see for yourselves and explore at the festival.
The leading exhibition for 2020 SIPF is held at 37 Emerald Hill, in the heart of the city, Orchard. I find the venue really attractive, because the site used to be an old school, ie, the former Singapore Chinese Girls School campus. I think using an old school to display artworks that integrate the past makes the whole exhibition feel, whole.
For the benefit of people who are not aware, I would like to take the chance to share that the former students of SCGS had launched a "Keep 37 Emerald Hill" campaign in 2018 to seek official conservation status for the old SCGS campus of almost 70 years from potential redevelopment at Emerald Hill. Their efforts were not in vain. In October 2019, just over a year after the campaign was launched, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) granted conservation status to the former SCGS buildings. So the whole of 37 Emerald Hill site is now under conservation.
The halls, former classrooms, old library, a basketball court, and even an abandoned pool have been activated by the works of talented local and international photographers – including a number of Opencall Showcase portfolios.
In this 7th edition, SIPF has featured the works of 50 artists including Kurt Tong (Hong Kong), JR (France), Bob Lee (Singapore), Holycrap (Singapore), and ABC Photography - a collection of images by international photographers - to name a few. Canvassing stories by these international artists, SIPF transformed pockets of spaces around Singapore into portals of time and space encapsulated by images. The festival invites everyone to step into a shared world of photography - to create moments and chart journeys as they travel through visual narratives.
I walked into the building, not understanding what the theme of ‘Departing and Arriving’ really meant, but walking out, I felt more evident than ever. In conclusion, in my view, ‘Arrival and Departure' simply mean coming to terms with the things and people in life that come and go. But it can be so much more than that. It can also mean the arrival and departure of new and old habits and ways of life, brought about by modernity and the strange healer we call time. It can be about revisiting unspoken societal topics that were considered taboo or too “obvious” to speak up about. It can be about the arrival at finally understanding identity and belonging, through a journey of departure. So much interpretation based on two simple words.
This festival indeed blew my mind, and I’m sure it will do the same to yours.
The SIPF will be held from now till 30 January 2021. As for where the other exhibitions are held for the SIPF, please check out the mainstays at a variety of venues. Not only are there key photographs at the newly conserved 37 Emerald Hill and Esplanade Tunnel, but the artworks can also be spotted across six Downtown Line MRT Stations. Meanwhile, photography gallery Deck that’s fighting its own battle (aka #SaveDeck) will be a participating locale as well, and you should give the spot all the support you can to avoid seeing its closure !