Outrage over National Gallery Singapore’s “Empire Ball” as museum seemingly okays colonialism

The National Gallery’s inaugural fundraiser is off to a really bad start.

Set to be the first edition of the museum’s biennial charity event, it will feature live auctions, among other things, to benefit noble causes. Folks with spare dough can bid for items such as art pieces, exclusive private tours and airplane joyrides to support the operations of the National Gallery Singapore. 

‘Tis a pity then that they picked the unfortunate theme of “Empire Ball”, seemingly in wanton glorification of colonialism. Countless massacres and violent atrocities be damned, right? All in the name of having a grand ol’ ball! 

To be fair, the reason why they picked the theme (albeit in bad taste) is because the fundraiser will be held during the opening week of the Gallery’s special exhibition Artist and Empire: (En)countering Colonial Legacies, a joint collaboration with Tate Britain. But still.

As a participant in the Artist and Empire exhibition, eminent Malaysian artist Yee I-Lann was particularly horrified by the choice of motif. So disgusted by it all that she considered pulling out of the show.

Assuring that the event would not celebrate colonialism, the museum clarified that the exhibition would be a critical examination of art in the era of the British Empire, and the issues following colonisation. 

Yee pointed out the obvious flaw in having something called “The Empire Ball” in a former colonial building.

It must have worked, because the event seems to have been renamed to a simple “Gala 2016”, without any indication of the past gaffe. 

Still don’t see the reason why it’s offensive? Singapore had it pretty easy when the British came over, but for many other countries like India, Kenya and the Boer Republics, their colonial tormentors weren’t as celebrated in history books. 

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