When Alvin Tan and Haresh Sharma joined forces to start The Necessary Stage back at the National University of Singapore (NUS), they both envisioned a non-profit platform for creative minds to explore and experiment with potential ideas and let loose their creative juices. From the Necessary Stage came the idea for an annual art festival that would enable Singaporeans to be connected to their inner artists, and thus, in 1994, the M1 Fringe Festival was born. After 10 years, the M1 Fringe Festival is going strong. This year’s theme was “Art and The People.”
Ana Shell Media Press had the opportunity to visit the exhibit “Majulah Singapura – Tree Project,” one of the many exhibits on display at the M1 Fringe Festival, which was held at the National Museum. Brainchild of Japanese artist Hiroshi Sunairi, the exhibit is part of an ongoing project started back in 2006. Seeds from Hibaku trees in Hiroshima, which survived the atomic bombs during World War II, are distributed and planted by volunteers around the world.
The project also featured a short film on the experience of growing the trees as a gesture of remembrance of the catastrophic events that struck Japan during World War II. According to the description of the project, the planting of the Hibaku Trees allows the participants and viewers “to connect the steadfast strength of nature in their silent testimony to their lives.” While the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the war were two of the most atrocious and tragic events never to be repeated by mankind, we must not forget the monstrosities committed by the Japanese Army during this same time period. It was due to the zeal of Emperor Hirohito that the Japanese launched a full scale invasion of sovereign Asian nations in search of natural resources and territorial expansion. One of those occupied nations was Singapore. It is quite ironic that an exhibit to commemorate Hiroshima is being held in Singapore, but then again, you don’t see the Japanese government doing much to educate their own people about the past and the suffering many countries endured under Japanese occupation. In addition, you can still read about Japanese government officials paying tribute to fallen soldiers at shrines dedicated in their memory.
At the “Majulah Singapura – Tree Project” exhibit, we had the opportunity to interview two visitors and capture their thoughts on the project. Mr. Suhaimy, a Singaporean born in 1958, expressed his sympathy for the people of Hiroshima, and thinks the project is a good way to remember the victims and showcase the strength of the Japanese people during reconstruction. He also shared a story about his father driving an ambulance for the British during the war.
As a young British ambulance driver, Suhaimy’s father would see dead bodies lying around and crying citizens during Japanese occupation. Suhaimy expressed his view that the younger Japanese generation should not bear the responsibility of the war time crimes of their forefathers, but should be made aware of the incidents during the war. He believes that the Japanese government has purposefully omitted Japanese war crimes from their school syllabi, and it is a shame that they’ve done so.
Another visitor whom I interviewed was Mr. David from Australia. He was visiting Singapore and had the chance to check out the exhibit at the National Museum. He feels that the Japanese government should teach the younger generation the horrors of their past. The past is the past and whoever fails to learn from history is bound to repeat it. Mr. David feels the symbolism of planting the seeds signals new beginnings and leaving the past behind, which might not necessarily be a good thing.
We attempted to contact the organizers behind the M1 Fringe Festival to get an interview or comment, but was unsuccessful in getting beyond an automated response. The reply given was that the organizers, Mr. Alvin Tan and Mr. Haresh Sharma, were too busy to reply to questions posted via email. What was the thought process given in even selecting the exhibit for the M1 Fringe Festival? We can understand that the Singaporean Government is encouraging the exploration and growth of the Art industry – but at what cost, when deciding on an exhibit that could potentially be sensitive and hurtful to the people? We did not have the chance to interview regular Singaporeans who may have personal experiences with the war, but I am sure that the responses would not have been as positive as one could hope.
Perhaps Hiroshi Sunairi is trying to “turn a new leaf” through the Tree Project, and while commemorating the tragic event at Hiroshima is definitely a kind gesture, we should remind ourselves that we cannot erase history. No matter how bad an event was, we must remember it so we will not repeat the same mistake twice. As Mr. Suhaimy said, “Let bygones be bygones, and [let’s] forgive their forefathers for their horrific acts. It is not their [younger generation’s] fault.”
As we ponder the issue, let us look forward to the 2015 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, featuring theatre, performance arts, film, dance, visual arts, mixed media, music and forums created and presented by Singaporean and international artists. The theme for M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2015 is “Art and Loss,” and will be held from January 14th to 25th, 2015.
Report prepared by Boon Hoe Chin