What truly unites a people or a country? Can union only come at the expense of excluding others? How unified can a people really be? What is the cost and the process of this unification?

What does this union look like, and how much of it can be found in flags, anthems, pledges, national costumes or symbols? How much of it is embedded in shared trial and tragedy? How possible is it to find unity in collective triumph?

Anne Lee Tzu Pheng’s iconic poem, “My Country and My People” (1967) invites us to consider the costs and cruelties of imperialism and colonisation, the compromises of national development and the sacrifices of economic ambition. The poem featured in her first collection of poetry, Prospect of a Drowning (1980) and was banned from performance on radio, with no official explanation given. More than four decades on, the themes in the poem continue to resonate in our world today—perhaps even more urgently than before.

How are artists engaging with a planet that has often occupied itself with national identities and borders, but is finding that there are millions who have neither home nor security? More people than ever experience forced displacement. Even for many who are not suffering the plight of a refugee, they are struggling with loneliness and disembodiment as they no longer recognise the world around them.

In an era of Trump, Brexit, and other manifestations of social and political fissures, how are connection, security and solidarity found and protected in times of such upheaval, turmoil and erasure?

Art has often been central to the formation of a collective identity—and in fact, sometimes it has been engineered to do so. As artists, we often find ourselves co-opted into social engineering and propaganda. How do we do make art that speaks to our times and our people, without compromising our personal, diverse voices?

Collective identity has often found its roots in nature and geography too. But as Tzu Pheng points out in “My Country and My People”, many of us experience a sense of rootlessness, disconnected from the natural world; a world that is excessively developed and greedily consumed and destroyed. Many of us become acutely aware of our own disembodiment, as our homelands race ahead with productivity.

Even in the realms of language, we are locked in descriptions of the ‘developed world’ and ‘underdeveloped world’. We struggle to hold onto a hope of equity amongst people and sustainability of the natural world. We struggle to reconcile traditions and progressions. We struggle to reconcile difference in our societies, as we continue to find ourselves divided by race, religion, tribes, political camps, gender and sexuality.

We invite you to consider Anne Lee Tzu Pheng’s iconic poem, and respond to our call for proposals for Fringe 2020: My Country and My People. We look forward to your responses to our call and to see the shaping up of a dynamic international programme that speaks sensitively, boldly and imaginatively to our times.

To access a copy of “My Country and My People”, please view page three of this PDF Some Views of Singapore: An Instant Sing-Lit Reader.

Sean Tobin Artistic Director M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

My Country and My People.
8-19 January 2020.
Get involved.

Find out more about the curatorial brief, application process and download the application form here.

The deadline for applications is
Friday 1 March 2019,