In 1993, a young artist named Josef Ng made headlines in Singapore by pulling down his briefs and snipping his pubic hair in public. He had his back to the audience. He was standing out of sight in the corner of the room. The performance was done with other artists, Vincent Leow, who drank his urine, and Shannon Tham, who poured vomit over himself. It was staged as a protest against the press’ sensationalism and demonisation of homosexuality. The snipping of hair was a sign of silent protest.

The performance was regarded as obscene by many public members and woke our sleeping giants, which gave Singapore its first ban on funding for performance art for the next ten years—hence silencing art for the next ten years.


I was in my second year at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, and the news was buzzing all around campus. But I was young and naive then and had only seen the close-up photos in one of our local newspapers. So I wondered what was all the hoo-hah about. Isn’t it just a performance with a message? But our authorities took it as a confrontational treat by a talented young man and turned it into lockdown.

Yes, 18 years ago, Singapore was ruled by anal-retentive authorities. And many Singaporeans were conservative and couldn’t accept such performances. Now, 18 years on, artist Loo Zihan will be re-enacting Josef Ng’s performance. Are our authorities ready for this?

Cane. A 30 minutes performance art by Loo Zihan will be performed live on 19 February 2012, at the Substation as part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2012 – Art & Faith. Cane was first performed on March 19, 2011, at Defibrillator, Chicago, Illinois. Based on an eyewitness account, the performance seeks to honour the memory of Brother Cane and examine how performance art can be represented.

“I question what the relationship of the Singaporean audience will be to Brother Cane 18 years on. Re-enacting this piece is the only way we can find the answer. I have faith that things have changed, and the artist who chooses to stand for his beliefs will no longer be silenced or exiled. I have faith in the power of art and the persistence of time to bring about this change.”

– Loo Zihan

With this upcoming performance by Loo Zihan, does it mean that Singapore is ready for a change? Controversy art, gay and nudity in your face? Has our prim and proper nation grown to be more open-minded? Being an optimist, I believe that this is a good sign that the arts will continuously be supported by like-minded folks and thrive in Singapore. But alas, art has a role to play, and that is to evoke and not provoke.

Catch CANE, By Loo Zihan on the 19 February 2012, at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2012: Art & Faith. Please get your tickets from Sistics soon as I heard it’s running out fast. More info about this festival is available on the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2012 homepage. Tickets priced at $19 (Excluding the SISTIC fee).

Photo Credit: Miao Jiaxin