Singapore’s Real History Through a Fictional Cartoonist

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A number of contemporary Singaporean writers and directors are challenging the official monolithic history of their city-state.  Verena Tay’s storytelling performance Cursed Earth and Daniel Hui’s film Snakeskin are two examples of alternative narratives we were able to see in New York last year.

Joining this discussion is Sonny Liew, a Malaysian-born, Singapore-based diasporic Chinese artist and graphic novelist who obtained a degree in philosophy at Cambridge University before studying illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design.  His latest work, the widely praised The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, is a meta-look of Singapore’s past through the life of the titular fictional cartoonist that criticizes the government and regrets missed opportunities while being wholly endeared to its cultures, people, and unsung heroes.  Before its release in the United States earlier this month, the book was published in Singapore last year, the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence — but not without controversy.  Due to its content, the Singapore National Arts Council withdrew funding for the book.

Demonstrating the complicated legacy of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kwan Yew, both Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-Jeou honored him when he passed away last year.  Perhaps this book which was designed to look like the real compendium of the imaginary Charlie Chan Hock work with its mix of finished comics and drafts (NPR called it “the greatest work of art ever produced in Singapore”) could be of interest to those who want to talk about the other histories of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Chinese diaspora.

See excerpts from the book at PEN America.

Liew will be in New York this week as part of a promotional tour for the book:

Friday, April 1, 7 PM
Midtown Comics, 200 W. 40th Street

Saturday, April 2, 12:30 PM
MoCCA Arts Festival
The Helvetica Room, Ink48, 653 11th Ave (at 48th St)

Via NPR