Singapore author whose NAC grant was cut asks if politically linked funding is acceptable

PHOTO: Epigram Books/Jeremy Tiang
PHOTO: Epigram Books/Jeremy Tiang

UPDATE: This story has been amended to reflect the grant amount that Jeremy Tiang received from NAC before it was withdrawn.

Singaporean author Jeremy Tiang, whose book grant from the National Arts Council (NAC) was withdrawn, said the question of whether it is acceptable that “political considerations” affect NAC’s funding for the arts is unanswered.

Tiang had the remainder of his $12,000 grant — of which he had already received S$8,400 — withdrawn in 2011 when he submitted the first draft of his novel “State of Emergency”. The story follows a Singaporean family from the 1950s to the present-day, covering key events such as the Hock Lee bus riots, Operation Spectrum and the Malayan Emergency.

The book, published by Epigram Books, was released in May. A spokesman for the publisher said that sales for the book have been “brisk”.

Tiang’s comments come after Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu replied in a written response to a parliamentary question on Tuesday (1 August) about why funding for the book was withdrawn. Fu said, “The project did not meet the funding requirements mutually agreed upon as the content in the book deviated from the original proposal.

“Members may want to note that the book has been published in Singapore, and is in circulation in bookstores..NAC may support an artist or arts group in other areas, even if it is unable to support a specific project.”

In an email response to queries from Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore , Tiang noted, “Many novelists deviate from their original plans — because the act of novel writing is one of exploration and discovery — and presumably they don’t all lose their funding. So we’re back to the undiscussed question of whether it’s acceptable that NAC allows political considerations to affect its funding decisions.”

Tiang, who is presently based in New York, added that it is a “question of how taxpayers’ money is being disbursed”.

“If we agree that the arts are a public good that ought to be publicly supported –and I’m aware that not everyone believes that — then surely artists should be free to interrogate the status quo, which is an important function of art? If the only projects that get supported are ones which prop up the official narrative, then, well, there’s another word for that.”

The NAC has borne the brunt of criticism in recent weeks, following comic artist Sonny Liew’s historic Eisners win last month, sparking a debate on whether political considerations should play a role in arts funding.

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