Southeast Asia’s traditions of art run very deep; each country has a strong cultural history of handicrafts and performance. Although these have evolved with time, there is a strong desire not only to preserve and display traditional arts but also to celebrate the modern ones. With such a wonderfully vibrant and varied art scene, it is no wonder that a calendar of Southeast Asian annual art festivals is jam-packed throughout the year.
Aside from normal exhibitions and performances, there are art festivals taking place throughout the year and so if you’re making a trip do have a look and see if you can fit one in. Below we’ve explored a few of the biggest and a few of our favourite Southeast Asian art festivals to get you started.
Indonesia is an archipelago made up of more than 17,000 islands and is home to hundreds of different ethnics groups all with divergent language, culture and of course arts. It is therefore unsurprising that Indonesia hosts multiple and varied arts festivals throughout the year. Two of the biggest festivals are Bali Arts Festival and Solo International Performing Arts in Surakarta.
Bali Arts Festival is a month long celebration of local art and cultural. It has been running for 36 years now and is argued by many to be the biggest cultural festival in the Indonesian art calendar. Each year it attracts people from all over the island and beyond. It is a chance for local people to celebrate the land of their birth and the traditions of their ancestors. The festival showcases a wide variety of handicrafts, cultural exhibitions and lots of performances. It starts at a very local level; in individual villages performers compete with one another for the honour and the chance to perform. After the initial performances it all comes together for a month of daily performances, which are held in a large amphitheatre. Although the idea of this festival is to display local arts, crafts and performances, people from anywhere and everywhere are welcome to watch and the audience is often made up of an international crowd.
Solo International Performing Arts (SIPA) is a large festival of performance held each year in Surakarta on the island of Java. The idea behind SIPA is the bringing together of arts not only from all over Java and Indonesia but from all over the world. This is a festival celebrating the performing arts and so is made up of dance, theatre and music performances from many different national and international groups and communities. Focusing on contemporary performance each year, the SIPA committee decides a theme and participants are then invited to audition to see who will perform at the festival. The theme of 2015 was ‘Life in the Contemporary World’ and 2016 was ‘Togetherness’. Over 10,000 spectators come to these performances that take place over three days at the beginning of September and every year it promises to be an event filled with fun and awe-inspiring shows.
Singapore has a flourishing art scene with a packed annual calendar of arts and cultural events taking place throughout the year. There are many reasons Singapore’s art scene is so vibrant but undoubtedly it is in part thanks to the National Art Council Singapore. The NACS makes it its mission to celebrate the arts and make the arts accessible to the masses through funding projects and artists and organising schemes and events throughout the year. Here are a few of our favourite Singaporean art festivals and events.
The Singapore International Festival of Arts is a child of the Singapore National Arts Council and has been running for almost 40 years. It is a festival of Singaporean and international performance particularly celebrating a variety of music, dance and theatre performances. The festival is preceded by the O.P.E.N., which is an 18-day series of events that encourage discourse and discussion centred primarily on art, humanity and the world today. This directly leads into the Singapore International Festival of Arts whose theme this year is ‘Enchantment’, particularly the enchantment of everyday life. The entire festival lasts about six weeks and creates and challenges the picture of modern society that we hold as individuals.
In an entirely different concept of the art festival Singapore is also the home of Singapore Art Week: a twelve day appreciation of the visual arts that takes place all over the city. This is a newer venture (2017 was the fifth annual occurrence) but it has been an immediate success. During this time the city is home to a diverse range of visual art experiences that draws a local and international crowd. There are a range of events including gallery openings, discussions on the role of art in culture amongst many other topics, art fairs, installations, exhibitions and also public art walks. 2017’s programme included an enlightening series of installations in Little India that charted the area’s local history and drew parallels with other diasporic populations all over the world.
Part of Malaysia’s history and traditions lie in arts and crafts; weaving, dying fabrics and making kites were all part of traditional folk activities in Malaysia. Today the country is multicultural and ever changing and the art scene is no different – it has evolved with the times and the peoples of Malaysia are keen to celebrate this. In recent years there has been a big increase in art festivals in the country and below are a couple of the biggest ones.
The George Town Festival in Penang is a success story of Southeast Asian art festivals. It started as a celebration of this colonial city gaining UNESCO status; however, now it has become a huge celebration of the arts. The city is small and so the whole town becomes a stage and a canvas for the artists to express themselves. Last year’s festival hosted an incredible 147 events in 20 venues – which is extra impressive when you consider that the town only has one performance hall!
Diverse City (the Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival) is an incredible five week long celebration of international arts and culture that takes place over Malaysia’s capital every year. It is an all inclusive festival that has performers, back-stage helpers and organisers from every corner of the globe and features a varied series of musical and theatrical performance pieces. The festival starts in the beginning of September and although the events change from year to year, if you do head along you’re sure to find something mesmerising and inspiring.
Some of the top performances in 2016 included a performance called ‘Synthesis’ by Hands Percussion and a classical medley by The Fidello Piano Trio. Hands Percussion are a Malaysian performing arts group that uses percussion instruments combined with visual performance centred on syncopated movements – with a focus on the performer’s hands – to create spell-binding performances. The Fidello Piano Trio is an Irish/Israeli group who performs classic music on a Fazioli piano, 18th century cello and 19th century violin. Their performances are highly acclaimed all over the world and their medley of Beethoven, Ravel and Haydn at Diverse City was very moving.
Other favourite events
If the above article has gotten your creative juices flowing but you’re still unsure where to begin your circuit of Southeast Asia’s annual art festivals below are a few more of our favourite events to help get you started.
- The Bukruk Urban Arts Festival in Bangkok, Thailand is a ten day celebration of all manners of urban art culture including street art, graffiti and public performances. The festival takes the form of a series of art exhibitions, talks from artists and critics from Europe and Thailand, an animation night and open-air music performances from a range of international DJs.
- On a similar vein, the Pattaya Arts Festival, Thailand, is a beach art festival that celebrates urban art particularly street graffiti. International street artists attend and put their mark on the local area – creating a walkway to be enjoyed by visitors that follows the beach and its off-shooting streets. It is a unique festival that celebrates art in the public domain in a truly new way.
- The Anime Film Festival in Jakarta is a celebration of Japanese anime art with film screenings, costume competitions, performances by Japanese artists and much more. Even if you’re not an anime fan, it is fun to check out the amazing costumes, whacky performances and unusual film screenings.