The Singapore Biennale opens today! It was really fun working on my piece in it titled Happy and Free, which stars Yeo Yann Yann and Hirzi Zulkiflie. What began as an attempt to imagine an alternate reality became more of an introspective journey as I contemplated the notions of identity and “nation”.
Boo Junfeng is a film-maker known for his works which seek to recover forgotten or overlooked histories and narratives – personal as well as national – and in the process, prompt questions about the present. In this work, Boo revisits the watershed year of 1963, when Singapore (along with Sabah and Sarawak) merged with the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia. For Singapore, this was a tumultuous union, which culminated in Singapore leaving Malaysia in 1965, becoming an independent city-state.
Responding to the Singapore Biennale 2013 theme ‘If The World Changed’, Boo imagines a Singapore that never separated from Malaysia, by presenting a music video where audiences are invited to sing along to the lyrics of “Happy And Free”, a song commissioned in 1963 by Singapore’s Ministry of Culture to celebrate the merger. Using the tropes of nation-building campaigns and borrowing from the conventions of karaoke videos, Boo’s work presents vignettes of Singapore’s past and imagined present as an accompaniment to the jazzy rendition of “Happy And Free”, inviting viewers to imagine how differently we might conceive of ourselves and our identity in the 50th year of merger with Malaysia, and the implications for the issues we face today.