It is rightly said that art is the best form of expression. Therefore, festivals around the world that celebrate art in the form of paintings, sculptures, and other craftworks succeed in giving joy to everyone. Singapore is known for its cultural heritage, sculptures and fine arts which adorn the Lion City, making it one of the hottest tourists spots in Asia. It does not require more proofs to understand why Singapore is a hub of art festivals, because the various Singapore Art Festivals that happen throughout the year is a beaming testament to that.

Singapore hosts a series of art events throughout the year. While some are organised for a few days, others carry on for few weeks or even whole months. Following are some of the most popular ones:

  • Singapore Arts Festival
  • Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA)
  • Art Stage, Singapore
  • Art Week, Singapore
  • Affordable Art Fair, Singapore
  • Singapore Contemporary

Since the ultimate aim of such festivals is to promote art, Singapore Art Festivals showcase works by both local and international artists. Theatre and fine arts, dance and music, visual arts, abstract and contemporary art – there is a type for everyone. Organisers also consider the audience and their perspectives to come up with ideas, which help them in curating art from around the globe.

Following is a short guide about the various art festivals, their nature, and their significance. You can choose which ones to visit depending upon your tastes and convenience. Here, you will find the dates, star attractions, and venues. So, what are you waiting for?

Art Stage – Contemporary Art (January)

Held annually in the month of January at its designated location of Marina Bay Sands, Art Stage Singapore deals with Asian craftsmanship, since it represents about 133 galleries across 33 countries. It focuses on the finest of fine art. If you are a tourist, it may also be helpful to know that Art Stage Indonesia is held in the month of August.

Art Stage for Singapore Art Festivals

A craftwork at the Art Stage Singapore

Singapore Arts Festival – Visual Arts (July/August)

This one is held annually during the month of July or August. Organised by the National Arts Council (NAC), it is considered as one of the most noteworthy events in the regional art scene. Visual arts like dance, music, and theatre are in focus, with over 70% performances put up by international artists.

The NAC has been continuously trying to establish a platform for aspiring artists who want to speak to the world through their creations. It believes that art has the ability to act as a medium. Thus, it can be used to convey stories that are important for the human soul and existence. The Singapore Arts Festival is one such platform which the NAC thinks will bridge the gap between artists and art lovers.

Singapore Biennale – History & Current Affairs (October to February)

It presents artworks that discuss history, culture, and current affairs. Organised for a period of 4 months, it provides a framework to artists who want to provide their perspectives about the new world order. In 2016, the much-anticipated Singapore Biennale selected “an Atlas of Mirror” as its theme.

The Biennale for Singapore Art Festivals

An artwork at the 2016 Singapore Biennale

The first ever biennale was organised in 2006, and has since expanded to include more categories. Nearly 50,000 or more visitors visit the festival every year, and the numbers are only increasing. Artists from Southeast Asian countries like China and India are the prominent participants of the biennale.

Singapore International Festival of Arts (August to September)

Founded in 1977, the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) began as an event to celebrate local art and to highlight the country’s diverse communities. It is now managed independently by the Art House. SIFA focuses on all types of arts irrespective of their artists’ nationalities. As a prestigious festival, it tries to keep its doors open to artists from around the world.

Ong Keng Sen Creates SIFA and O.P.E.N.

Originally known as the Singapore Annual Arts Festival, the festival was discontinued for a brief period in 2012. The following year, incoming director Ong Keng Sen resurrected the fest and renamed it as SIFA. His vision was to transform the festival and spread its reach to a larger audience. Ong took the initiative and created O.P.E.N., a pre-festival event inviting ideas and themes from the public at large.

It was a roaring success in 2013, and since then, has continued to enhance the festival and its offerings. O.P.E.N. usually takes place in the months of June/July, with the main festival running for seven weeks in August/September. The presentations are organised at different locations in Singapore: Drama Centre Theatre, Gardens by the Bay, LaSalle College of the Arts, Malay Heritage Centre, Marina Bay Sands Event Plaza, National Gallery Singapore, School of the Arts, and Victoria Theatre.

SIFA 2016 Edition

The 2016 edition began from 11 August onwards, and also consisted of street performances and public film screenings. It had a total of 18 shows, centred on the theme, “Possibilities”. Talking about how the theme came be to chosen, Lee Chor Lin, CEO of SIFA, said, “Potentiality nurtures hope and inspires imagination. The process of art-making is a game of creating, prolonging, and extending potentiality.”

Singapore Art Week – Contemporary Art (January)

The 2016 edition took place from 16 to 24 January. During this period, the audience got to experience the best of Singaporean and international art. It had more than hundred events, ranging from art fairs to gallery openings, art tours to film screenings, and conversations on art to artsy walks. There were 160 galleries on the fairgrounds. This gave the visitors a chance to see diverse collections of contemporary art.

The speciality of Art Week is that it has something for everyone: art enthusiasts, seasoned collectors, and those who are entirely new to visual arts. It is suitable for people of all ages, so don’t be surprised if you see a family roaming around the festival venues appreciating art. The venues of Singapore Art Week are People’s Park Complex in Chinatown, Little India, and Shophouse 5 located in Geylang.

Local visual artists, Jane Lee and Tang Da Wu, also presented their solo exhibitions at Singapore Tyler Print Institute and National Gallery Singapore respectively.

An outdoor exhibition mobile service called “ENVISION: Sculptures of the Garden City” takes art lovers around the Civic District. The guests are able to discover sculptures by Asian and Singapore artists exhibited near prominent landmarks in the area.

Artwalk Little India – A Highlight of Singapore Art Festivals

Artwalk Little India is another highlight of Singapore Art Festivals. During this multidisciplinary festival, the Little India cultural precinct comes alive with performances and art installations that celebrate its rich heritage. It extends late into the night at Singapore Art Museum. In 2016, the Artwalk celebrated its 20th anniversary with late night soirees.

The Affordable Art Fair – Contemporary Art (November)

The Affordable Art Fair is the leading showcase of affordable contemporary art, and is an important part of the Singapore Art Festivals. In 2016, it took place between 18 November and 20 November. In its 7th edition, it focused on contemporary art, which does not require its viewers to be connoisseurs.

Affordable Art Fair, a part of Singapore Art Festivals

A presentation at the 2016 Affordable Art Fair

Art Fair Singapore is also the place where local art meets international artists and inspires them. It is the only place where everyone can relax with the understanding that art doesn’t have to be intimidating. It is organised at F1 Pit Building.

Singapore Contemporary (January)

Singapore Contemporary is about contemporary art. The second edition opens on 19 January 2017 at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Center with an exclusive afternoon VIP private view. It will host more than ninety exhibitors, offering collectors and art enthusiasts a comprehensive selection of available and collectable works. these include original paintings, limited edition crafts, sculptures, and photographs.

Singapore Art Festivals - Contemporary

A painting at the Singapore Contemporary

Singapore Contemporary at the 2017 Edition of Singapore Art Festivals

The 2nd edition of the Singapore Contemporary is the largest celebration of visual arts in Southeast Asia. Therefore, it will be a cornerstone event for the Singapore Art Festivals. It will showcase over 3000 carefully selected eclectic works of art. It is structured around four principle sectors: Artist Dialogues, China Encounters, Photo 17 Singapore, and Gallery Projects.

The event will offer complementary programs for adults and children. Art tours, kid’s studios, art talks, and live painting demonstrations are some of the attractions. The venues for the 2017 edition are Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The Contemporary offers unique benefits to private, institutional, and professional collectors as the event comprises of one-to-one tours, discussion with South-east Asian art specialists, and a private tour with the show director.

Gillman Barracks, Contemporary Art Cluster

In 2012, a former British military camp was turned into an art gallery. Today, it has become Asia’s latest destination for contemporary art. Gillman Barracks derives its name from General Sir Webb Gilman, a well-known public officer of the British army. The Barracks was built in 1936 for the British’s 1st Battalion before World War II.

The site survived the war. More than sixty years later in September 2012, the site was relaunched as a cluster of international art galleries. Consequently, it gave rise to the renowned Singapore’s Contemporary Art Enclave. As it is away from the busy city life, the gallery provides a tranquil atmosphere to the guests. The Barrack’s colonial architecture and the serene tropical surroundings make it a great place for contemporary art and surely awakens appreciation for art in people.

Popular Galleries at Gillman Barracks

Some of its well-known galleries are Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Mizuma Gallery, and homegrown galleries such as the Yavuz Gallery. These galleries showcase arts by artists such as Ai Wei Wei, Gilbert & George, Indieguerillas, Yayoi Kusama, Jane Lee, and Sebastio Salgado.

Gillman Barracks is an essential part of Singapore Art Festivals

Gillman Barracks

NTU Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA)

It also has the NTU CCA, a research centre that has three intertwining platforms of exhibitions, residencies, and research. The NTU CCA Singapore encourages critical discourse and experimental contemporary art practices in the country.

On Friday nights, Bi-Monthly Art is organised after a bout of Dark Open houses. During each Art after Dark event, the Barrack’s tenants launch new shows and extend their opening hours. In addition to these, other art-related programmes in the enclave such as music performances and F&B pop-ups are also organised. The NTU CCA Singapore also invites visitors to engage with their artists-in-residence. Each Art after Dark has a different art-related theme such as literature, design and much. The flagship edition of Art after Dark takes place during the annual Singapore Art Week in January.

SMU Arts Festival (September)

The SMU Arts Festival is mainly organised for Arts Students and “It’s Arts Club”, an alumni group where members can showcase their skills. So, it is obvious that SMU attracts people in the younger age groups. The theme for 2016 was “Fresh”, with the tagline, “Think different, feel FRESH!”

SMU Arts Festival

A poster for the 2016 edition of SMU Arts Festival

These are busy times, and these days even art enthusiasts don’t find time for their hobbies. So, naturally, less and less people are contributing to or appreciating art. Moreover, people hardly have time for themselves, and finding time for art, a neglected realm, can become tough. However, as well know, art has its own ways of finding you. Singapore Art Festivals has, therefore, led to the foundation of new forms of expression. As local artists get exposure to international art forms, we see new art styles emerging.

I hope this brief guide helps you in your quest to embrace art in Singapore. Because, creative art is out there, and it is up to us to get out and look for it.