Awakening the Dragon: Art, Urban Space + Authoritarianism

Posted on by TIna Novero

By Tina Novero, Program Coordinator, Global Urban Humanities

The latest Global Urban Humanities Brown Bag lecture on cities featured urban geographer Jason Luger, lecturer in the UC Berkeley Department of City and Regional Planning. Luger’s talk explored the tensions between art activism within the authoritarian confines of Singapore.

Luger explained that organization and mobilization around an annual firing of two remaining “dragon kilns” provides a metaphor for the underlying power of community efforts toward social change. The annual 3-day “Awaken the Dragon” festival involves thousands of local participants in making ceramics that fill kilns measuring over 88 feet in length.

While Singapore’s government supports the arts as a nation-building strategy, the process of art-making often involves input from diverse stakeholders. Art-making provides a platform for national discourse on a wide range of pressing social issues from censorship of theater to LGBTQ rights.

“Art-making–and the artistic encounter–is one way that critical voices can emerge through the nooks and crannies of the authoritarian structure,” said Luger.

Luger’s research was conducted in 2012-2015 and included interviews with artists, activists, and state officials. He is currently co-editing a book entitled Art and the City: Critical Artscapes / Resilient Artists (Routledge, 2017).