Censored: 5th Passage and the [Public] Making of Singapore’s Contemporary Art History

Dr Michelle Antoinette

ARC DECRA Fellow & Lecturer in Art History & Theory, Monash University

This paper re-examines the significance of 5th Passage to Singapore’s contemporary art histories. This short-lived, yet groundbreaking artist-run initiative operated in Singapore during 1991-1994 at a time of momentous transformation and development for Singapore’s contemporary art scene. The collective was catapulted into the public spotlight in 1993-1994 after its support of a politically-sensitive performance by the artist Josef Ng, which became highly sensationalised through media coverage in the popular press. Famously, an image of Ng’s performance made the cover of The New Paper, showing the artist with his back turned while cutting his pubic hair. The ensuing controversy surrounding Ng’s performance effectively ended the 5th Passage initiative, led to a ban on performance art funding in Singapore for 10 years, and ongoing paranoia around performance art. If art histories are a means by which art and artists are propelled into critical public visibility – a means of making art public – then beyond its sensationalised publicity, there has been a relative invisibility and silence around 5th Passage’s critical significance. This paper argues that rather being a passive omission or forgetting, such invisibility may rather be understood as acts of suppression and censoring of the 5th Passage story in Singapore’s contemporary art history.


Dr Michelle Antoinette researches modern and contemporary Asian art histories. She is ARC DECRA Fellow (2017-2020) and Lecturer in Art History and Theory at Monash University. Her major publications are Reworlding Art History: Encounters with Contemporary Southeast Asian Art After 1990, and Contemporary Asian Art and Exhibitions: Connectivities and World-making.


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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