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More to Peranakan culture than just makan
WHILE the Peranakan culture might be most closely associated with its well-loved cuisine, there is much more to it than just the food. Here to show you just how much more is the inaugural Peranakan Arts Festival, with an array of activities for babas, bibiks, and everyone else to learn more about this rich heritage.
Festival director Joyce Lim says: "One of the things I learnt by being involved in this festival is there is really no such thing as a 'half-Peranakan' or a 'quarter-Peranakan'. The fact that we're essentially a mix between our indigenous forefathers and the Chinese makes us a 'half' anyway."
The idea for the festival took birth over coffee with chairman of local non-profit arts company GenerAsia Richard Tan and the first vice president of the Peranakan Association Singapore Alan Koh. It took about nine months to implement.
Ms Lim recounts: "We were talking about the 28th Baba Nyonya Convention to be held in Singapore, and (Tan) mentioned wanting to do a sequel to his Peranakan musical Bibiks Behind Bars, which was a sold-out success in 2002. So as we talked about doing something together, the ideas just grew and before we knew it, we had a festival on our hands."
The former marketing director for Esplanade Theatres on the Bay adds: "It felt natural showcasing our culture through the arts because both (Tan) and myself come from an arts background. The Peranakans have a rich artistic heritage in food, design, theatre, and music so it was easy to develop the festival based on artistic ideas."
Held at different locations in the historically rich district of Empress Place, Victoria Theatre, Concert Hall and the Peranakan Museum, the festival will span five days and feature four exhibitions, three seminars, two theatre productions and a bazaar.
The two theatre productions, Bibiks Behind Bars, Kena Again! by Tan and Pintu Pagar by Desmond Sim, have both been written specially for the festival.
Ms Lim says: "I'm really looking forward to watching them both because they're so different. One's a comedy, and the other's a love story."
A comedy and a love story
The former will feature actors Francis Hogan and Shirley Tay who will be reprising their roles from the original Bibiks Behind Bars after 13 years. The musical comedy about gambling bibiks will also star Melvyn Chew, Catherine Sng and Richard Chia, among others.
The festival will act as the world premiere for Pintu Pagar, a love story stretched out over 40 years featuring only four actors embodying multiple roles: Henry Heng, Nora Samosir, Nicholas Bloodworth, and Kimberly Chan.
The rest of the festival came together as a result of collaboration and teamwork, reveals Ms Lim. "We spoke to our friends and business associates from the region and got recommendations. Every artist, speaker or group you see showcased at the festival has a story to them, and some of these stories are pretty inspiring."
One of the four exhibitions at the festival is A Visual Arts Journey which features a historical collection of vintage fashion photographs. Viewers will also get to see the latest works of Peranakan artists like Adeline Yeo, Desmond Sim, and Carolyn Law, whose pieces display their own interpretations of their culture.
Running for the full length of the festival is the one-stop shop Festival Tent. Erected on the Empress Lawn, the tent will feature workshops like the art of batik printing with batik master Tatang, performances by world-renowned performer and musician Nita Aartsen, and a deconstruction of dishes like mee siam and laksa by celebrity chef Philip Chia.
"I'm also really looking forward to seeing the kids tossing nasi ulam and drawing their own Peranakan tiles over the weekend," adds Ms Lim.
Keeping it alive
Putting the festival together with such a host of activities was no easy task. But, for Ms Lim, it was simply a question of forging ahead regardless.
She explains: "We just had to put the financial considerations aside and go with our gut that it would be supported. We went with our biggest ideas of what would be exciting and inspiring to promote the Peranakan culture, and we couldn't have created the festival without all the help we got from so many people."
Ms Lim's goal for the festival is a simple one: "We hope Peranakans will just celebrate their heritage and share their stories. We hope the younger Peranakans will be proud of their backgrounds and take their culture forward - in whatever form and fashion. Just keep it alive and live it!"
The Peranakan Arts Festival will be held from Nov 4 to Nov 8 at various locations. For more information, and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.peranakanfest.com