In what is probably a first in Singapore, some 100 people were seen to be taking a very public bath together at the National Museum of Singapore’s (NMS) front lawn on Saturday evening. The public display of cleansing was actually carried out as part of the Singapore Biennale 2013 on its opening weekend – a public performance put up by Malaysian artist Sharon Chin named Mandi Bunga, which literally means Flower Bath.
Taking a flower bath, although not necessarily a public one in a crowd, is actually a ritual practiced across much of east Asia – as a means to cleanse body and soul of evil and ill luck, or as I was told in my younger days, to “buang suay” or throw out bad luck. The idea for the performance did in fact come from a call to cleanse, one which the Bersih movement in Sharon’s country of origin calls for, with the artist dreaming it up in 2012 after her experience of two Bersih street rallies – hence the yellow that is prominent throughout the display that is seen in the basins used as well as in the sarongs which the participants wore.
While what most of us got to see was the public display, the 100 or so participants did actually attend workshops which were carried out on several weekends preceding during which participants got to design their sarongs for the event. The performance also involved the participants gathering at another Singapore Biennale venue, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) – assembling at the courtyard where school assemblies (when the buildings were used by the original occupants, St. Joseph’s Institution) had once been held. The participants then walked in their sarongs over to the NMS.
While the performance – at which all involved seemed to have tremendous fun at, is a one evening event, the project’s process and outcomes have been documented and will be installed at SAM for the Singapore Biennale which runs until 16 February 2014. More information on the Singapore Biennale 2013 can be found at the event’s website.