The annual SMU Arts Festival is one of the most highly anticipated events in the city's cultural calendar. This year marks a return to live performances after two online editions during Covid-19, and it was a spectacular showcase of the best SMU talents and guest artistes. Themed LOST & FOUND, the festival paid tribute to a platform lost for two years but now found, with a focus on rediscovering the joys of in-person gatherings.
The pandemic has forced us to confront many challenging realities. For over two years, we have faced restrictions on our daily lives, grappling with everything from cancelled plans to financial insecurity. In the midst of all this turmoil, it can be easy to forget what we have gained.
The 2022 SMU Arts Festival is a reminder of the strength and resilience of our community. It is a celebration of our ability to come together and support one another in difficult times. It is also a reflection on what we have lost, and a reminder that we must never take our hard-won freedoms for granted. Running for a month from September 2 to October 2, this year’s event was centred upon reviving and rediscovering forgotten stories, traditions, and trends.
“We have deliberately scheduled one performance on every weekend of September to bring people back to physical venues,” says Seah Wee Thye, Festival Director and Head, Arts & Creative Experience, Office of Student Life.
“Programming it this way also allowed our student performers in the SMU Arts and Cultural Fraternity to attend and learn from one another’s productions. Meanwhile, our two exhibitions in visual arts and media arts were on SMU campus for the entire month of September, and attracted members of the public and residents from Waterloo and Bras Basah.”
Arts: The great unifier
The power of art is undeniable. It has the ability to unify a community by bringing people together and providing a shared experience. It can also be used as a tool for communication and expression, providing a way for people to connect on a deeper level. Additionally, art can help to promote critical thinking and creativity, two things that are essential for any thriving community.
As such, this year’s SMU Arts Fest was a multimedia showcase which saw almost 300 student talents from 15 Co-curricular arts clubs mentored by the industry’s best, such as choral conductor Jennifer Tham — a 2012 Cultural Medallion recipient; orchestra maestro Quek Ling Kiong who is also the Music Director of Singapore Chinese Orchestra; and SMU alumna filmmaker Jasmine Teh, who is the current President of SMU Alumni Collective for Artists and Designers.
Together with other collaborators, including Singapore’s first autism-focused school Pathlight and even SMU President Professor Lily Kong, the festival’s six productions examine this year’s theme from different perspectives: re:site (literary and choral arts), re:play (music) and re:turn (dance) ruminate on displaced landmarks, disappearing artforms, and forgotten tunes of the collective consciousness.
On the other end of the spectrum, re:collect (visual arts), re:frame (media arts) and re:act (theatre) delve into the hopes and dreams of individuals, taking to heart that what is lost can always be found.
Professor Lily Kong has contributed an original poem titled Remembered Places, specially written and recorded for the Festival. This poem was presented in a surround-sound experience in re:site, to kickstart and trigger the students’ creative responses and expressions. Presented under our Li Ka Shing Library and at the SMU Connexion, re:site is also SMU’s first site-specific experimental choral presentation and a homage to the beloved red-bricked National Library.
The arts have always been a vehicle for social change, and this year’s Festival also showcased a sustainability-focused visual arts exhibition of 21 creative works. These works, by both SMU and guest artists from Pathlight School, were created with upcycled everyday objects; not a single piece or raw material was purchased. There was a piece by SMU Reef Alert, crafted using marine debris found in the ocean, showed how humanity’s flippant waste disposal practices has resulted in the accumulation of trash which eventually finds its way back into society. Together with a photography and documentary project showcasing life-changing stories, these elements provide a snapshot of the ways in which the arts can be used to raise awareness about societal issues.
“We continue to position SMU Arts Festival as a commercially accessible and attractive event in the calendar of ‘Bras Basah.Bugis Precinct’,” says Wee Thye.
“And we persist with providing a meaningful platform for student artists to experiment with inter-disciplinary collaboration and integration, and to work with and learn from different communities in the process.”