Defending and Denigrating Religious Symbols

Singapore is not Spain, France, Philippines or any Catholic-majority country and yet the Catholics managed to shout down a secular and kinky party held at the former CHIJ chapel. “Former”, so it is no longer consecreated ground. “Former”, so it is no longer a place of religious worship. Naturally Archbishop Chia had to say the right things when asked for his opinion on the Escape Chapel party where the ribald theme was implicitly horny partying nuns.

However, there were evidently enough loud complaints that the organisers had to pull the plug on the event this Saturday, which is just before Easter Sunday and just after Good Friday, a symbolic and significant time for all Christians, Catholics and Protestants alike. The organisers would have probably sneaked the party in successfully if they held it some other time as the religious are always fervently driven by rituals and semiotics, and the timing of the party was too rude for them to be indifferent about it.

I can expect that if a kinky party theme of bald monks and nuns in saffron and grey robes, the Buddhists would also complain just as loudly. No religious group is a pushover. This shows the always present strength of the religious lobby. They push their views by complaints and implied threat to boycott, which is a more effective method in largely capitalist Singapore. I don’t like your image and product, I won’t spend my money on it as well as ask all my friends and family to boycott too.

At the bigger scale, the religious lobbies in Singapore has confined itself so far to casinos loudly and gay rights quietly, and have not ventured en masse into abortion or stem cell research. So the major religions here so far know their place and space, so to speak from a secular perspective. However, should they be allowed to push more especially in multi-religious Singapore? To be fair to religions, they have stood together on issues of terrorism which is a laudable thing and the problem with religions is usually not about its theology, but about its followers.

So back to the “havoc nuns” party that was cancelled at the former CHIJ. Were the organisers insenstive? Were those who complained (probably not all Catholics bothered) hypersensitive? I think it was a bit of both, as it is always the case. If the “havoc nuns” party was held somewhere else the week after, it would not have been a big deal.

Organisers pull plug on party deemed ‘disrespectful’ to Catholics
by Sumita Sreedharan
04:45 AM Apr 04, 2012

SINGAPORE – Organisers have pulled the plug on a party deemed disrespectful to the Catholic community in Singapore, following intervention by the venue’s landlord.

The Escape Chapel Party, which was to be held at Chijmes Hall on Saturday, has been criticised for being insensitive to Catholics after event planner, Creative Insurgence, used controversial images, such as a model dressed in a nun’s habit and party dress, to publicise the party.

It led to Archbishop Nicholas Chia of the Catholic Church in Singapore calling for the event to be cancelled, while some members of the public said it was in bad taste to hold the party at the chapel, historically a place of worship.

In a statement yesterday evening, Creative Insurgence director Aaghir Yadav said they would have to cancel the event “despite our best intentions to move forward” as Perennial (Singapore) Retail Management, the landlord for Chijmes, intervened to immediately stop the party.

Mr Yadav reiterated that organisers “used no religious symbolism in any of our marketing and promotional materials and had no intention to cause any upset”.

He also noted that organisers have apologised for “unintentionally offending the Catholic community” and explained that the event aimed to showcase Escape, a UK nightclub and recording label.

In the statement, Escape Swansea & Escape Recordings chief executive David Griffiths said it was “a pity” to cancel the party as the company was “looking to expand into Singapore”.

“This event was about the music – and it would have been an excellent opportunity to gauge the viability of setting up in Singapore,” he said. Having an Asian leg of the Escape music festival in Singapore “no longer seem(s) feasible”, he added.

A spokesperson for Perennial said yesterday that the management was alerted to the party on Monday evening.

Through legal counsel, they informed the tenant, who rented the space to Creative Insurgence, to “take steps to immediately stop the event planned for Saturday”, said the spokesperson, adding that they would consider legal action to ensure enforcement, if necessary.

Chijmes is “meant to be a venue to bring together people from all walks of life in a harmonious manner”, the spokesperson said.

“We strongly disapprove of the hosting of any events at Chijmes or any of our properties that are illegal and immoral in nature and/or disrespectful of any religion or races.”

Responding to Today, a spokesperson for the Catholic Archdiocese said last night: “The Church is happy to hear that the party has been cancelled.”

“We appreciate the swift action taken by the authorities and Chijmes’ management to prevent an event that is disrespectful to the Catholic faith from taking place,” the spokesperson added.

The police confirmed yesterday that reports have been filed on the event and investigations are ongoing. It is understood that several complaints have been filed with various ministries.


One response

  1. Pingback: Shades of Offence in Multireligious Singapore « Benjamin Cheah

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