Arts Preview Substation

Preview: SeptFest – In The Margins by The Substation

Screenshot 2021-02-07 at 3.55.57 AM

The Substation’s annual arts festival, SeptFest, which commemorates its founding on 16th September, returns for its 22nd edition from 4th to 28th March 2021 after a 6-year hiatus.

Helmed by Co-Artistic Director of The Substation, Raka Maitra, the festival will feature 20 artists and 13 programmes across four weeks. A smaller-scaled format of the festival, SeptFest Fringe was held last September, where a series of works that were submitted as part of an open call were adapted into experiential workshops.

The last edition was held in 2015 under the helm of Artistic Director, Noor Effendy Ibrahim. Initially scheduled for September 2020, the festival team had originally planned to present artists and productions from Singapore and within Asia that spotlight on issues that are often buried from the mainstream media and disappearing cultures, rituals and practices. With the ongoing pandemic and closure of travel borders, the curation of the festival had to take a 360 degree turn.

Waltz of the Flower by Caroline Chin

Says Festival Director, Raka Maitra: “Apart from the considerations of logistics required for a festival in the midst of a pandemic, Covid-19 has spurred us to look inwards and the issues that surfaced during these trying times—the challenges of freelance arts and cultural workers; the precariousness and disappearance of long-standing arts spaces; and the social injustice faced by disadvantaged and marginalised communities.”

Projek Orang Asli

The pandemic revealed the cracks of our society. The rising cases in the migrant dormitories last year caused an uproar of xenophobic and racist sentiments. The crisis also revealed the social inequality and limited access to support and protection among minorities and foreign labour, due to ethnicity and nationality being the basis for prejudice and discriminatory practices. How can we, as a society, learn together and acknowledge the ‘other’ as our counterpart, as an equal in the development of this nation?

NADA. Photo Credit: Kiat

Together with writer Alfian Sa’at, curator Zulkhairi Zulkiflee and anthropologist Vithya Subramaniam, a group of migrant workers are invited to curate Migrant Workers Community Museum, which features artefacts contributed by members of the migrant worker community in Singapore. What does it mean to create a ‘place’ for those who are often marked as transient labour, whose ‘places of origin’ lies elsewhere? What does the history of migration to Singapore look like if we take into account the social history of migrant workers?

Brown is Haram

In the second week of the festival, two performances will explore how Singapore grapples with social inequality and social mobility. Brown Is Haram, a performance-lecture by Mysara Aljaru and Kristian-Marc James Paul, invites the audience to look at Brown narratives in Singapore, specifically Brown social mobility and masculinity through a collection of stories and experiences gathered during a series of workshops in 2019-2020. Tabula Rasa (pronounced tak boleh rasa) is a preview of Subhas Nair’s sophomore album which looks at erasure in the city and interrogates the power play in writing of our narratives.

Alternative Lessons For Women

Discussions around female sexuality are often considered a taboo across cultures. Alternative Lessons for Women, a double-bill by Sonia Kwek and Tan Weiying, hopes to challenge gender stereotypes by presenting alternative experiences of women, in particular women and their inner desires. On the other side of the spectrum, asexuality is often disregarded and perceived as an ‘internet orientation’. parthenogenesis: by from(a)basement theatre collective brings the audience on a journey of one woman’s quest for an orgasm, despite not wanting one.

parthenogenesis:. Photo Credit: Thomas Brunning Photography

As a homage to The Substation and 30 years of its founding, The Last Chapter, curated by Young Artist Award recipient (2000), Lim Chin Huat, is an immersive experience to re/discover the various facets of The Substation—its people, histories, stories to even the ghosts that housed themselves over the years. Audience members will get to explore the nooks and crannies of The Substation with stories brought to life by various characters: an artist (Johnny Ng) who offers his body for rent; Tan Bee Bee (Wendy Toh), an awkward, lovelorn and unabashedly patriotic middle-age clown who volunteers herself to be the safety distancing ambassador; and The Ghost (Regina Toon), a forgotten artist who devotes her whole life to creation, yet completely unseen.

OEOS by Lina Yu

Standing in solidarity with the artists and cultural workers who are affected during the pandemic, The Substation hopes to support these artists with a platform for their voices. Maitra comments: “When I arrived in Singapore, I was struggling to create a space of my own during my early years. I am always grateful to The Substation’s former Co-Artistic Directors, Lee Weng Choy and Audrey Wong for supporting me without any questions. I want to do the same for the younger artists. Furthermore, the themes that are explored in this festival are very close to my heart.”


The Substation building is scheduled to undergo renovations under the National Arts Council’s Arts Housing Scheme by July 2021, and with its future remaining unknown, SeptFest could possibly be the last chance one gets to experience The Substation in its most original and authentic state.

SeptFest takes place from 4th to 28th March 2021. Tickets and more information available here

1 comment on “Preview: SeptFest – In The Margins by The Substation

  1. Pingback: The Substation announces it to close for good – Bakchormeeboy

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