‘Pornography Disguised as Art’: Bare/d Bodies, Biopolitics and Multicultural Tolerance in Singapore

  • Marcus Cheng Chye TanEmail author
Part of the Contemporary Performance InterActions book series (CPI)


In 2017, performance licences for two shows in the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival were denied just days before their opening. Undressing Room and Naked Ladies were flagged for ‘excessive nudity which included scenes of audience-participants stripping naked, and graphic depictions of exposed genitalia.’ Such acts of naked censorship are not uncommon yet the call to censor these performances came from a Facebook group, ‘Singaporeans Defending Marriage and Family,’ who labelled these performances as ‘pornography disguised as art.’ This chapter considers this curious shift in biopolitics and examines the place of the body as the site of political inscription where ‘Asian values’ are appropriated as means of continued oppression. Yet, as these performances prove, the body also presents possibilities of revised narratives of multiculturalism in contemporary Singapore.


  1. Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Associated Press. 2007. Singapore Reforms Sex Laws—But Not For Homosexuals. The Guardian, October 24. Accessed March 18, 2017.
  3. Bahrawi, Nazry. 2014. Is Singapore Truly Multicultural? Today, February 14. Accessed April 1, 2017.
  4. Barr, Michael D. 2000. Lee Kuan Yew and the “Asian Values” Debate. Asian Studies Association of Australia 24 (3): 309–334.Google Scholar
  5. Benjamin, Geoffrey. 1976. The Cultural Logic of Singapore’s “Multiracialism”. In Singapore: Society in Transition, ed. Riaz Hassan, 115–133. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Berghaus, Günter. 2005. Avant-Garde Performance: Live Events and Electronic Technologies. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chew, Hui Min. 2016. Same-sex Kiss Cut from Singapore Staging of Les Miserables. The Straits Times, June 11. Accessed April 1, 2017.
  8. Chong, Terence. 2011. The Theatre and the State in Singapore: Orthodoxy and Resistance. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Chun, Han Wong. 2012. Singapore Leader Urges Tolerance of Foreigners. The Wall Street Journal, August 26. Accessed April 30, 2017.
  10. Foo, Jie Ying. 2017. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Prompts Advisory from Anglican Bishop. The Straits Times, March 13. Accessed April 1, 2017.
  11. Foucault, Michel. 1978. History of Sexuality, Vol. I: An Introduction. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  12. ———. 1997. Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975–1976. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  13. Goh, Wei Hao. 2016. Lobbying Against “Naked Ladies” and “Undressing Room” is the Reason S’pore Arts Won’t Truly Thrive., December 7. Accessed February 3, 2017.
  14. Helmi Yusof. 2016. Our Skin Protects us But Also Imprisons Us (Amended). The Business Times, November 4. Accessed March 1, 2017.
  15. Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. Impact of New Media on General Election 2011. Accessed April 1, 2017.
  16. Lacan, Jacques. 1978 [1988]. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book 2: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954–155. Translated by Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  17. Lee, Hsien Loong. 2016a. “Family an Important Building Block of Society”: PM Lee in CNY Message. Channel News Asia, February 7. Accessed March 28, 2017.
  18. Lee, Regina Marie. 2016b. “Traditional Values” Wear White Campaign Returning to Pink Dot Weekend. Today, May 23. Accessed April 1, 2017.
  19. Lian, Kwen Fee. 2015. Multiculturalism in Singapore: Concept and Practice. In Multiculturalism, Migration and the Politics of Identity in Singapore, ed. Lian Kwen Fee, 11–29. Singapore: Springer.Google Scholar
  20. Lim, Tin Seng. 2016. Two Child Policy. Singapore Infopedia, National Library Board Singapore, November 22. Accessed April 1, 2017.
  21. Ming, Poon. 2016. ‘Undressing Room: Interview with Ming Poon.’ M1 Singapore Fringe 2017: Art & Skin. Facebook, November 25. Accessed January 15, 2017.
  22. ———. 2017. Email Interview with Marcus Tan, February 23.Google Scholar
  23. Modood, Tariq. 2008. Multiculturalism after 77. The RUSI Journal 153 (2): 14–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Naked Ladies (the play) Review. 2016. YouTube, August 31. Accessed March 1, 2017.
  25. Nanda, Akshita. 2016. IMDA Denies Rating to Two Shows in 2017 M1 Fringe Festival for “excessive nudity”. The Straits Times, November 25. Accessed February 2, 2017.
  26. Ng, Kelly. 2017. “Gay Moment” in Beauty and the Beast Totally Unnecessary: National Council of Churches. Today, March 14. Accessed April 1, 2017.
  27. Pejić, Bojana. 1998. Bodyscenes: An Affair of the Flesh. In Marina Abramović: Artist Body: Performances 1969–1998, ed. Marina Abramović and Velimir Abramović, 26–40. Milan: Charta.Google Scholar
  28. Saad, Imelda. 2007. PM Lee: Why Singapore Must ‘Leave Section 377A Alone. The Straits Times, October 23. Accessed March 18, 2017.
  29. Shakespeare, William. 1997. King Lear. The Arden Shakespeare. Edited by R.A. Foakes. Surrey: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd.Google Scholar
  30. Singapore Affairs. 2016. M1 Fringe Festival—Pornography Disguised as Art? November 22. Accessed February 3, 2017.
  31. Singapore Affairs. M1 Fringe Festival Statement—Speaking of the “Truth”. Accessed April 1, 2017.
  32. Singaporeans Defending Marriage and Family, Facebook. 2016. M1 Fringe Festival—Pornography Disguised as Art? November 22. Accessed February 3, 2017.
  33. Thea Fitz-James. Naked Ladies. Accessed March 1, 2017.
  34. Toepfer, Karl. 1996. Nudity and Textuality in Postmodern Performance. Performing Arts Journal 54: 76–91.Google Scholar
  35. Undressing Room, Fringe Synopsis. Accessed February 1, 2017.
  36. Weiyu, Zhang. 2016. Social Media and Elections in Singapore: Comparing 2011 and 2015. Chinese Journal of Communication 9 (4): 367–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Zakaria, Fareed. 1994. Culture is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew. Foreign Affairs 73 (2): 109–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Žižek, Slavoj. 2008. Violence. New York: Picador.Google Scholar
  39. ———. 2014. Zizek—Multiculturalism and Tolerance. YouTube, November 18. Accessed March 3, 2017.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore

Personalised recommendations