Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

3 August 2015

This weekend in Singapore is going to be a big one. Maybe the biggest in its history. Singapore’s National Parade Day celebrations will span across a four-day-long weekend, taking on extra significance this year as crowds gather to celebrate the nation’s 50th birthday.

It’s a toast to a remarkable success, a cheers to its late leader Lee Kuan Yew who created what has been called by some an ‘economic miracle’, helping establish something of a utopia in Southeast Asia.

Fifty years of near-solid growth has left Singapore’s streets well paved and its people well fed. But, as the afterburn fades from the fighter jets that will soar over the harbour this Sunday, and the national flags that have been amassing in shop windows over the past few months are rolled up, Singaporeans will begin to look forward once again.

The question people may be asking themselves is how this nation can continue to define itself as a global overachiever. Exportable culture is an asset you could say Singapore lacks and I feel that if this young nation truly wants to make its mark on the world stage it needs to find universal ways of showcasing what is truly a unique culture to the world beyond its borders.

Singaporean popular culture is yet to find a global voice; Singaporean design, while strong, is far from being a catalyst to drive tourists to the country.

Soft power does wield influence; you just need to look at a country of comparable size to see how. Denmark, and the success it has had with The Killing and Borgen, illustrates how a small nation can bolster its global reputation through the arts.

For the smart nation that is Singapore, the idea of creating cultural capital might well be one that is tailored to a Chinese consumer who may have quite different needs to say a Dane or an Aussie. But surely having a few truly iconic buildings, or nurturing a fledgling film or music industry to produce exportable work of a high quality, can only do good things for Singapore.

Fortunately it seems like this is an issue firmly on the agenda of its creative community and from design, cinema and food to art, there’s a feeling on the ground that a new generation of talent wants to celebrate their country, not just on the home turf but overseas too.

And while some, like fashion designer Elyn Wong, whose garments can be found in high-end boutiques from Shanghai to New York, believe a Singaporean design aesthetic comes from the diverse array of external influences that the country is exposed to, others like the ceramic souvenir specialist Supermama are truly looking within to create products that are authentically Singaporean and are coveted by a tasteful international audience.

As the Southeast Asian economy continues to grow, backing an innovative and dynamic Singapore to continue punching above its weight in the business world is surely a safe bet. But I’m also putting a more risky wager on some of the region’s finest creative talent emerging from Singapore, the self-labelled “little red dot”.

Nolan Giles is Monocle’s Singapore bureau chief.

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