The first blended edition of SAW revealed exciting possibilities for artistic expression and the immense potential of Singapore’s visual art landscape


SINGAPORE, 9 February 2021 -- The ninth edition of Singapore Art Week (SAW) concluded on 30 January, marking the end of its first blended edition. Held across nine days from 22 January, Singapore’s pinnacle visual arts event showcased over 100 programmes presented by more than 300 independent artists and curators, celebrating the coming back together of Singapore’s vibrant arts community following the country’s gradual lifting of restrictions this year. Art took over both the physical streets and digital realm, welcoming both Singapore and international visitors to start off the year with a vibrant art-venture.


“The rich diversity of artistic programming, private-public partnerships and activation of spaces across Singapore in SAW 2021 is the result of a cohesive visual arts community that stepped up in the midst of significant challenges arising from the Covid situation in 2020. The local visual arts ecosystem with our artists, arts organisations, galleries and public institutions has stayed resilient in delivering high quality experiences to local and international audiences this year. We harnessed technology and introduced innovations to present both physical and digital programming by many local artists and arts organisations.  With travel restrictions in place, we are grateful for the strong trust that reputable galleries and collectors in the region and beyond have placed in us to bring in their high quality artworks although they could not be here physically.  We had the benefit of diverse perspectives shared by international experts and institutions during the 9 days. Delivering SAW 2021 successfully has given us the confidence to do even better next year for the 10th anniversary edition, building on the experiences we gained this year.” said Rosa Daniel, Chief Executive Officer at the National Arts Council.   


Singaporean Artists and Curators Shine


This year’s edition turned a strong spotlight on home-grown creatives, with a record 40 commissioned works helmed by both emerging and established Singaporean artists and curators. Audiences were treated to imaginative and diverse offerings that saw artists experimenting and breaking creative boundaries, allowing everyone to interact with art in multiple ways over SAW’s nine days.


“2021 has started on a very good note, allowing us to really come out, go to different shows, experience the work, meet the artists and reconnect with the art fraternity. We were also able to experience the spirit of the art world which is really, really strong. We have been able to do these things despite the macro-situation that has been going on. The pandemic has brought out the power of art in our lives and the spirit of the art community – that to me is a beautiful thing to experience” said Kanchana Gupta, a Singapore-based artist who attended SAW.


The public had the opportunity to encounter a plethora of artworks in the most unexpected of places - from the delightful Bus.Stop.Art, a public art exhibition peppered along the bus 175 route co-curated by Amelia Abdullahsani & Merryn Trevethan, to Singapore’s first mall-wide art activation at Creative Unions curated by Neighborhood and presented by Funan, that brought together Singaporean artists and retail brands in a series of unexpected collaborations. Well-loved marquee events such as the Light to Night Festival and ARTWALK Little India also returned with much anticipation as stunning light art installations and colourful murals took over iconic arts institutions and familiar heritage buildings.


Combining technology and art, this season also saw a diverse range of hybrid programmes inviting audiences to reflect upon our current times, such as Inner Like the OutAR by Mama Magnet, and ON/OFF/SCREEN by Moving Picture Experiment Group (MPEG). Leveraging new means and platforms such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), artists were able to utilise transitional and interim spaces to introduce visual art to more audiences. Digital offerings also helped further bring this season to audiences at home and those beyond our shores – for example, the 4th IMPART Collectors’ Show: Leap of Faith took online audiences into the homes of private collectors around the region.




From left: Inner like the OutAR AR filters;
IMPART Collectors' Show 2021: Leap of Faith - Dr Woffles Wu


The physical offerings remained strong, giving audiences the opportunity to experience art in-person again, like Berny Tan’s Maybe we read too much into things, which draws a look into artists’ use of found objects, as well as the largest survey of contemporary ceramic art practices in Singapore with the inaugural Singapore Ceramics Now 2021, by Jason Lim and SEED Art Space.


Gallery view of Singapore Ceramics Now 2021


Innovating Beyond Borders



S.E.A. Focus 2021 offered a dual exhibition of artworks at Tanjong Pagar Distripark and online (Photos by Toni Cuhadi, courtesy of S.E.A. Focus, Singapore)


SAW continued to be a stage for international collaborations -- a reflection of Singapore’s openness and diversity as a regional arts hub. S.E.A. Focus, which has grown to become one of the highly-regarded art platforms in Southeast Asia, was able to successfully bring the best representation of galleries and artworks to Tanjong Pagar Distripark despite travel restrictions; underscoring the strong trust and confidence placed in S.E.A. Focus’s credibility and good reputation by international galleries and artists. 


Similarly, global travel restrictions notwithstanding, over 40 international artists from the UK, US, Australia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia and beyond worked with Singaporean artists across the digital space to generate successful cross-collaborative programmes; a remarkable feat signaling trust in Singapore and our artists. These included headliner programmes such as hybrid exhibition Otherworlds: non/digital realities, produced in collaboration with Hong Kong-based Altermodernists; the three-day multimedia performance work Deep Field Cinema by INTER-MISSION and Currency Design, organised in collaboration with Interdisciplinary Art Festival Tokyo (IAFT); as well as Open to Interpretation by The Asian Art Institutum, organised in collaboration with Gasworks in London.


Inspiring New Possibilities for the Future


SAW Art Symposium, Panel on Art for the Public – Commissions and Cultural Philanthropy


As the leading, go-to visual arts season in Southeast Asia, SAW 2021 was also a key platform for cultural exchanges between artists, collectors and stakeholders, driving conversations on the arts for the region. The inaugural SAW Art Symposium was held from 27 to 29 January, bringing together local and international cultural leaders and policymakers like Daniel Birnbaum (Artistic Director, Acute Art), Emily Sullivan (Curator, Kaldor Public Art Projects), Shubugi Rao (Artistic Director, Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2021), Kelvin Tay (Managing Director, Regional Chief Investment Officer, UBS AG) and Dr Melanie Fasche (Lecturer MA in Art Business, Sotheby’s Institute of Art) to tackle topics relevant to the arts ecosystem in light of the prevailing global pandemic, as well as its implications for the future.


Conducted in person at Victoria Theatre and live streamed simultaneously online, the seven panels reflected on issues regarding space and placemaking, arts programming, technology and the art market.


“The symposium which was live streamed online allowed participants from different cities to come together, reflecting on topics that are still relevant today. The conversations with other respectable panelists also gave us new creative hints, giving us inspiration for our ongoing 'task' as an art collective to create, even in difficult times. It is important to seek out and affirm an idealistic part of humanity, and present an idea of the future; that’s why we try to create art!” said Takashi Kudo, Communications Director, teamLab who spoke on the panel “The Future of Digital Technology in Art”.


“One takeaway I had was that the pandemic and travel restrictions have forced galleries, museums, art fairs and collectors to accelerate their adoption of social media and new software into their SOPs,” said Chong Huai Seng, co-founder of The Culture Story and art collector,  who spoke on the panel “How Sustainable is Art Going Digital?” He added, “I look forward to continue longer and more in-depth conversations with leading international experts on the future of the art industry, especially the rise of crypto art which I find fascinating.”


The widespread interest in the Symposium exemplified the importance of exchanging best practices on the arts in the region and working together towards a more cohesive future for the regional and global arts scene.


The Road Ahead


SAW 2021 marked a step towards the future for the visual arts scene.


“The pandemic has certainly stretched us and demonstrated that despite challenges, there is still a silver lining in how the arts continue to inspire new possibilities and creations. We learn from this edition, harness the positives, and look ahead with anticipation and excitement to SAW 2022 where we will celebrate its 10th anniversary. A sustainable visual arts scene will require strong support from everyone including artists, curators and presenters, and we hope more partners will come on board to grow the plethora of arts activities for audiences – both in Singapore and those abroad – to experience come January,” added Tay Tong.


SAW 2022 preparations are now underway, with the 10th edition slated to take place from 14 to 23 January 2022.