Our SG50 Wishes

Singapore turns 50 today, August 9, 2015. National Day celebrations are more lavish than ever, even as the country faces an uncertain future with the passing of its founding leaders and with a general election coming up that many expect will challenge the domination of the ruling party. There are the official celebrations and then there are the unofficial ones, many of the latter mounted by arts and civil society groups. Among these groups is an independent cultural and social enterprise called Post-Museum. It led a campaign to gather “Our SG50 Wishes” from arts practitioners and social activists. The wishes may now be viewed on tumblr.

SP highlights a few of our favorite wishes:


Urich Lau, artist:
“I wish that Singaporeans will learn that true success is to have the freedom for failure.”


Christine Chia, writer, editor and teacher:
“More compassion, empathy and help for lower-income families, isolated elderly and marginalized minorities like migrant workers. More preservation of our architectural and artistic heritage and fewer malls and chain stores.”


Terry Ong, writer and artist:
“Less Mass. More Mess.”


M Ravi, lawyer and memorist:
“Love and compassion must deploy every tool to fight against inhumanity. Law is one such tool that I’m trained in. This year, I would like to see the setting up of a National Human Rights Commission.”


Ng Yi-Sheng, writer:
“My wish for Singapore is that we stop using “diversity” and “multiculturalism” only as feel-good buzzwords. We need to actually make a commitment towards respecting them as core values.

That means actual anti-discrimination laws, applicable to race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, political belief, income/class level, even nationality.

That means state-sponsored preservation of language diversity, including our many Indian and Chinese languages (Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hainanese, Hakka, etc, are real languages, not mere dialects).

That means anti-harassment laws being used to uphold the rights of the oppressed and the marginalised, not the already privileged. That means accessible information about privilege, and how it is easily, invisibly abused. And that means, at times, affirmative action, to redress the shocking imbalances in gender, race and class in many of our institutions.

Also, it means that we should never be satisfied. We should never pat ourselves on the back and say we’ve done a good job. Real diversity isn’t easy; it’s bound up in disputations and conflicts, as people with truly different wants are forced to confront these wants.

We need to think of multiculturalism not as a state, but as a process. In fifty years, we won’t be finished. But we need to keep working at it, because it’s the right thing to do.”


Amanda Lee Koe, writer and editor:
“I would like to see Singaporeans being treated as adults.”


Gwee Li Sui, poet, graphic novelist and literary critic:
“It fascinates me how, after fifty years, we are only now contending with what it means to live in a pluralistic society at a personal level. We are more used to having ourselves represented as part of some community to other communities. Now, each of us has to engage who we are privately, what our community identity means to us, and where we stand in relation to the rest of society.

In the long term — and a long-term sentiment tends to feel perverse — all the recent tussles in secular space we have seen can only be for the good. I hope that groups will not misunderstand, nor our government hinder, this early stage of some necessary process. People must also understand that artists, more than politicians and policy-makers, are always caught in the middle in such development. Art and artists always suffer when one perspective dominates because art survives not on the freedom of some or even the majority but on the freedom of all.

As such, I hope that, in 2015, Singapore will learn not to treat its artists as belonging in the same class as mere entertainers or information-providers — worse, propagandists. I also hope that more artists will find the clarity of vision to lift themselves beyond such forms of work and to refine their craft.”


Pre-schoolers painted 290 recycled egg trays in class, and used these to form the 5m-by-5m red and white SG50 logo. From The Straits Times/Asia News Network.


About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

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