A luxury we cannot afford
The title of Para Site’s new exhibition, referring to the Singapore government’s stance towards art and culture during the early years of Lee Kwan Yew’s reign. The exhibition is a survey, albeit genuine, into a history that can only be viewed by the Hong Kong audience from a certain distance. If the aesthetics of our contemporary art has become universal under the globalisation of the art market and international biennials, our history has not – no matter how we draw parallels between states and cultures, an exhibition that discusses Singapore’s political history held on Hong Kong soil must result in a response that is at best ambivalent, if not indifferent. A discussion can only take place when both parties are informed of the topic.
But I am not talking about the exhibition. I am in fact thinking of a totally different matter. Again, I was feeling uncomfortable after a certain communication with somebody on Facebook. I could not quite tell the nature of it at first: Was I upset because I argued with someone when I did not have to? But something inside me compelled me to respond. Was I upset because I feared that I have offended that person with what I said? But I was only saying what I believed was right which had nothing to do with that person, it would not become wrong just because she was offended by it. Was I upset because I sounded argumentative? Perhaps, but I thought I used the tone and words proper to the message I conveyed. Was I upset because it looked like I was trying to sound smart and superior? Perhaps, but that was because I knew I was right.
So after one day’s pondering in uneasiness, I understood. I tried to account for my uneasiness by my flaw in logic, by my arrogance, by everything that can be considered my own weakness. Again, I succumbed to non-existent guilt. If something upsetting happens, it must by default be my own fault. But it is not. I know now that I feel uncomfortable because the person I talked to, belongs to a majority of people who claim to be apolitical, who prefer to talk about issues without addressing the political aspect, who find it safer to not talk about politics, since it is dangerous and arbitrary and can only lead to pointless arguments that destroy harmonious relationships, and pretend that the political does not exist, that one can talk about things only from one tiny aspect, as if that is the most objective, and therefore disinterested way to talk about things. But given the way the world is now, to pretend that any issue can be apolitical is not only ignorance and cowardice, but evil. Especially for those people who actually possess the intellectual ability to think, the more contemptible it is for them to surrender their mind to remain ‘neutral’ about political matters. To be neutral is to grant sanction to those currently in power, to turn a blind eye to any injustice in the current political system. To be apolitical in the Hong Kong now, is a luxury we cannot afford.