Anti-Yellow: Forms of Performative Dissensus in Singapore Art

Dr Yu Jin SENG

Senior Curator, National Gallery Singapore

The colour yellow evokes a visual imaginary that is centuries old starting from anti-Asian paranoia racism in the ‘yellow peril’ to blame the ‘other’ in forms of cultural production such as literature, film, popular culture and art. In the cultural politics of Singapore in the 1950s and 60s, the anti-yellow culture movement (反黄行动) emerged from the Chinese Middle School students as part of the boarder anti-colonial drive. They objected to the general colonial disinterestedness of the moral welfare of the colonial subject exposed to ‘decadent’ culture of the West such as in film that propagated pornography and violence. When the ruling People’s Action Party came to power in 1959, the anti-yellow drive transformed into forms of social discipline and control to curb Western decadent culture. For instance, Operation Snip Snip was launched in 1974 to discriminate against men with long hair who were associated with drugs culture and deviant behaviour. This paper will examine how performance artists in Singapore like Lee Wen, Zai Kuning, and Vincent Leow adopt strategies of resistance to un-discipline body, cultural and spatial politics through their use of yellow as a colour burdened by its histories of racism, exclusion and suppression.


Dr Yu Jin Seng is a Senior Curator at the National Gallery Singapore. He recently completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne, on the history of exhibitions in Southeast Asia. Seng’s research interests cover regional art histories focusing the history of exhibitions and artist collectives in Southeast Asia.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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