untitled [national day] (August 2020)
"The Singapore Flag has appeared as a recurring motif in my work over the years. I’ve wiped with it, cleaned with it, waved it, shit on it, stained it, nailed it, dragged it, torn it up and put it back together.
Created in 1959 by then Deputy Prime Minister Dr Toh Chin Chye, each feature of the Singapore Flag bears a unique symbolic meaning. Red stands for universal brotherhood and equality of man. White symbolises pervading and everlasting purity and virtue. The crescent moon represents a young nation on the ascendant, and the five stars depict Singapore's ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality.
Like many other things in Singapore, there are multiple rules and regulations governing the use of the National Flag. For example, it cannot be used for any commercial purpose or worn as part of any costume or attire and the flag can only be displayed throughout the year on a flagpole and at night if it is illuminated. However, these guidelines are relaxed during the National Day celebrations period each year. In 2003, artist Justin Lee Chee Kong was prevented by IMDA from exhibiting a painting entitled Double Happiness— A Fantasy in Red, which consisted of an image of the Singapore flag with various red images of the Chinese characters for double happiness because "the National Flag is a national symbol and no words or graphics should be superimposed on it”. My favourite “misuse” of the National Flag is when the Singaporean men's water polo team superimposed the flag onto their swimming trunks during the 2010 Asian games – if you haven’t seen it, please please please Google it, you will not be disappointed.
I don’t think that the National Flag should merely sit atop high flagpoles untouched and out of reach. I think it is important to constantly evaluate whether our society lives up to the ideals that these symbols claim to represent – especially when it gets shoved down our throats every year. If we come to the realisation that these symbols don’t accurately reflect the values or conditions of our society then maybe something needs to change, if not they become empty and meaningless decoration.
Today, I’ll be thinking of loving critics, exiled politicians, bankrupted activists, grey-listed academics, POFMA-ed journalists, censored artists and Daddy Pritam. Today, I’ll be thinking of rental flats next to skyscrapers and the invisible migrant workforce who maintain the air-conditioned nation outside in the 32 degree heat (except now most of them are literally imprisoned in dormitories). Today, I’ll be thinking about the messiness of democracy, the problematics of “national identity”, the performativity of “patriotism” and the complexities of civil society. Today, I’ll be thinking about the many ways to be Singaporean and the many ways to use a flag.
Happy National(ism) Day."
– From a post on my Facebook page dated 9 August 2020