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Undressing Room

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Arts Engage: Censorship – Rating Denied, Letter from Arts Engage

Arts Engage (30th November 2016)

Arts Engage regrets the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s decision to deny rating to two works in next year’s M1 Singapore Fringe Festival
(ST Nov 25, 2016; “IMDA denies rating to two shows in 2017 M1 Fringe Festival for ‘excessive nudity’”)

IMDA was apparently applying the Arts Entertainment Classification Code “to protect the young from unsuitable content, while enabling adults to make informed viewing choices.” It took advice on this matter from an Arts Consultative Panel (ACP) comprising “housewives, artists, educators and working professionals”.

Naked Ladies (by Thea Fitz-James) and Undressing Room (by Ming Poon), were denied a rating – which is a ban – due to “excessive nudity which included scenes of audience-participants stripping naked, and graphic depictions of exposed genitalia”. IMDA said the works “exceeded the R18” rating under the AECC.

This is an unmerited and retrograde step which runs counter to the move towards a reasonable, open and fair regimen of arts regulation in Singapore. It is totally unbecoming and out of character for an agency like IMDA that aspires to administer a transparent and well-run system.

Arts Engage expresses full support for the Fringe Festival and its Director Sean Tobin. The Festival has a long history of incisive, cutting-edge programming coupled with open audience engagement which has raised the bar for the appreciation of contemporary art in Singapore. Mr Tobin is a respected artist and art educator who has made significant and seminal contributions to the growth and development of theatre and performance.

The 13-year old Festival has always been professional and responsible in sourcing content and opening up a critical public space for dialogue and discussion. This year, given the nature of the content, the Festival itself decided on the R18 rating – the highest possible for theatre.

We would also like to question the grounds, protocol and process used to censor Undressing Room and Naked Ladies. What does “excessive nudity” mean? Who decides if nudity, a legitimate and time-honoured device of artistic expression, is “excessive” or not? Where is the artist’s voice in this decision process and how is nudity in these works “excessive”? Did IMDA or its representative actually see the works? What precisely was the ACP’s advice and who on the panel signed off on it? How is nudity (excessive or not) harmful to young people? Finally, doesn’t the fact that the works have an R18 rating already protect the young?

So many unanswered questions bespeak an appalling lack of clarity and transparency in IMDA’s decision-making process. Works which are submitted for a rating decision should not be banned or censored altogether; neither artist nor citizen is any the wiser for it. Opaque, backroom censorship violates the value of art and undermines community trust in the legitimacy of institutions like IMDA.

While we accept arts regulation, IMDA must regulate without resorting to moral policing. If anyone thinks Naked Ladies and Undressing Room are not to their taste, they do not have to watch the shows. A rigorous and transparent regulatory process will ensure fairer outcomes without disrupting artistic enterprise and the eroding of the community’s trust. This incident is proof that the IMDA is failing as Singapore’s arts regulator.