The Art and Soul of Asia in 1999

originally printed in and reported by Raju Vellor.


The contest is over. Singapore has prevailed in its bid to become Asia's arts capital. No other city in the region can come close to matching the range of cultural events that Singapore plans to offer in this year-long runup to the millennium. Just yesterday, it seemed that the tourism board's former slogan "Surprising Singapore" missed the point that there were few surprises in the region's nanny state. But now, it's "New Asia Singapore"--a much livelier place, in part because the government is trying to generate more buzz to lift both morale and the economy.

The music scene is certainly humming. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a stellar lineup: standout guest performers include Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie on March 8 and 9, cellist Yo-Yo Ma on March 12 and 13 and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter on June 3 and 4. Tickets can be purchased by phone at 65-348-5555 or online at

Can't decide which of Singapore's two new museums to visit? Check out both. The Asian Civilizations Museum is home to a large and superb collection of rare artifacts. Through May 30, it will host the must-see "Eternal Egypt: Treasures from the British Museum," which made its Asian debut in Hong Kong last fall. The Singapore Art Museum, meanwhile, showcases local modern art as well as other Asian and international works. Two shows of Chinese painting are set for this year: contemporary mainland works in ink are on view March 24 to June 20, followed in the fall by paintings--some of them sanctioned copies of the masters--from the Ming dynasty to the present. Other highlights include the ASEAN art fair (on display Oct. 21 to Nov. 22 before heading to Europe) and Singapore Art 2000, a series of exhibits, lectures and other events running from Dec. 2 to Jan. 21. Both museums are closed on Mondays but can be visited online anytime at

Prepare to kick up your heels at lively events like Dance Space '99 (at the Subspace until March 21) and Viva Brazil!, a samba-fest of music, art and food (March 12 to 14). April Fool's Day ushers in a comedy festival (April 1 to 20), with local and visiting entertainers competing for chuckles. The annual Singapore International Film Festival (April 16 to May 2) will unspool more than 250 films from 35 countries. This year's focus is on Indonesian directors; tickets are $5 for most films and can be booked by calling 65-222-5953.

The Singapore Arts Festival will dazzle audiences from May 29 to June 20. Theater buffs are eagerly anticipating Fabric, local playwright Henry Ong's story of Asian immigrants, and Canadian avant-garde director Robert Lepage's Geometry of Miracles, a visual poem that pays homage to American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Coinciding with the festival is Volume and Form, an environmental and urban sculpture exhibition with works on display all over town from May 21 to Sept. 5. Sculpture fans should also check out a landmark exhibition of works by local artist Ng Eng Teng, taking place all year at the National University of Singapore. And for those interested in the art of shopping, the Great Singapore Sale, an annual spree-for-all, returns May 28 to June 27.

Although Singapore is an eater's paradise any time of year, save some room for the annual Singapore Food Festival (July 2 to 23). For this event many of the island's top eateries serve up a feast of special dishes and deals for locals and visitors alike. And if you're still not full, the World Gourmet Summit (July 24 to 31) brings some of the globe's top chefs to town to create their fave dishes.

On a musical note, the River Fiesta (Aug. 1 to 15) brings live tunes and entertainment to the great outdoors. The fun continues in September, when world music collective WOMAD (short for World of Music, Art and Dance) returns to Fort Canning Park hot on the heels of a wildly popular debut last year.

November brings a buskers' festival to the riverfront along Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, as well as a charity rubber-duck race on the river. At the end of the month, Canadian circus troupe Cirque du Soleil unveils its dazzling Saltimbanco. December will see a model of the starship Enterprise touch down in Singapore for the Asian leg of the Star Trek World Tour. The month promises to be one long pre-millennium party. For details, read on--or just swing by and let Singapore show you into the next century.