The organisation describes itself as "an initiative by a group of citizens who strongly believes that there is a need to facilitate the sharing of social, political and economic experiences of those who had, or are eager to contribute to society through reflection and civic discussion." Apart from its vested interest in what it perceives as unfair laws in Singapore, which curb freedom of expression, the group has also organised a series of talks called Changing Worlds which seek to encourage dialogue on topics such as urban planning, economics and art.
In the press release informing the public of the cancellations, Function 8 revealed that the "advisement" came from the National Arts Council (NAC), but this has been denied by Miss Pearl Samuel, the Deputy Director of the National Arts Council's Corporate Communications department. In a phone conversation with publichouse.sg, Miss Samuel assured us that the decisions were made without any intervention from the NAC and that she does not know much about Function 8 or the play Square Moon to tell us if it had broken any guidelines.
Substation's General Manager Miss Emily Hoe whom we also spoke to expressed disappointment at having to make such a decision. "We try and support events that have trouble getting space, but unfortunately we are unable to help in this case." She is unable to provide any further comments.
The Necessary Stage, which is the said programmer for the festival Square Moon was originally slated to be part of, has not gotten back to us.
The answers seem to lead to more questions. The most burning one being the exact grounds on which the play and the books for the launch were penalised. What sentiment or clause in the nation's cultural guidelines did it offend? In view of other plays like Cooling Off Day and The Campaign to Confer a Public Service Star to JBJ ( both staged by Wild Rice which incidentally had its NAC funding cut since 2010), which has dealt with the dicey issue of local politics, why was Square Moon, a play ironically set in a fictional context, considered inappropriate? Moreover, it is understood that the play is currently still seeking approval from the Media Development Authority (MDA). Why then has it been dropped and withdrawn by the venue operator and programmers, when the only agency with the power to decide has not made a decision yet?
"How far are the authorities allowed to override the professional judgements of the programmers that have been hired precisely to pick works that are worth showing?" asked one of the founding members of Function 8, Mr Tan Tee Seng. The organisation is currently seeking an open dialogue on the issue with the relevant authorities and hopes to shed some light on how the arts should be handled in the country.
While some may opine that the arts and activism should not mix, it is good to remind ourselves that art in its many disciplines is a medium with which the individual exercises his/her imagination, there are no limits or taboos. In that effect, the work should be judged based on its merit in execution and not in the nature of its theme. The latter is for the public to discern, not silenced with a heavy hand.
That is of course if the cancellations have anything to do with the subject of the play or the books. With the lack of real answers, one can only hypothesize.
We have also emailed the Ministry for Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica) about the matter. We have yet to receive a reply from them.