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Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

20 Arts and Cultural Festivals to Visit in Southeast Asia in 2020

It’s the year 2020 and the world is rife with new Instagram filters, hashtag 2020vision (yes, we get it) and the perennial “new year, new me” declarations. Well, if you’ve got travelling and #jetsetter on your new year’s resolution list, we’ve come up with a list of 20 arts and cultural festivals you can look out for in Southeast Asia this year.

1. SINGAPORE ART WEEK

WHAT: A nine-day celebration featuring artists, collectives, organisations and other art intermediaries showcasing a range of quality visual arts projects, discussions and exhibitions. As part of Singapore Art Week, there is also the annual Light to Night Festival which not only features a wide array of programmes spanning day to night, but also sees the transformation of Singapore’s Civic District’s most iconic cultural institutions using art, light, sound and movement. If you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s not too late. 

WHERE: Singapore

WHEN: 11-19 January 2020*

MORE INFO: https://www.artweek.sg/

SEE ALSO: IMPART Collectors Show and Justice For All  

*Also happening the same weekend is M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, an annual festival of theatre, dance, music, visual arts and mixed media created and presented by Singaporeans and international artists. Tickets are almost all sold out but there are still one or two performances you can try to catch.

 

2. FRINGE MANILA

WHAT: An annual arts festival showcasing fresh, daring, and groundbreaking material from emerging and established artists from both the Philippines and internationally, across all genres including theatre, poetry, music, dance and the visual arts.

WHERE: Philippines, Manila

WHEN: Usually held in February/March 

MORE INFO: https://www.facebook.com/FringeMNL/

 

3. YANGON PHOTO FESTIVAL

WHAT: Myanmar’s largest photo event features exhibitions and screenings by documentary photographers and visual journalists from all over Myanmar as well as from Europe and the US. For the last 10 years, its organiser PhotoDoc Association has trained more than 1,000 visual journalists and social activists to produce powerful stories about human rights, cultural heritage and environmental issues all around Myanmar. 

WHERE: Myanmar, Yangon

WHEN: 19-23 February 2020

MORE INFO: http://www.yangonphoto.com/

 

4. SINGAPORE BIENNALE

WHAT: Titled Every Step in the Right Direction, the international contemporary art exhibition invites participation through the act of artistic exploration, drawing on the importance of making choices and taking steps to consider current conditions and the human endeavour for change.This year’s biennale features 77 artists and art collectives from Singapore, Southeast Asia and around the world.

WHERE: Singapore

WHEN: Now till 22 March

MORE INFO: https://www.singaporebiennale.org/

SEE ALSO: Interview with artistic director and curators of Singapore Biennale

 

5. CAMBODIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

WHAT: The most significant and industry-driven film event in Cambodia, CIFF offers over 150 screenings in all major cinemas of Phnom Penh including Legend Cinema, Major Cineplex, Bophana Center, Chaktomuk Theatre and Rosewood.

WHERE: Cambodia, Phnom Penh

WHEN: 14-22 March 2020

MORE INFO: https://cambodia-iff.com/

 

6. SINAG MAYNILA

WHAT: A film festival that supports local independent cinema in the Philippines, Sinag Maynila showcases works from notable directors in local indie cinema.

WHERE: Philippines, Manila

WHEN: Usually held in March/April 

MORE INFO: https://www.facebook.com/SinagMaynila/

 

7. BONN PHUM (VILLAGE FESTIVAL) 

WHAT: A free three-day celebration of traditional performing arts, games, and food during the Khmer New Year. 

WHERE: Cambodia (Held at a different village each year)

WHEN: Usually held in April 

MORE INFO: http://bonnphum.com/

SEE ALSO: A photo-diary of Bonn Phum 2018

 

8. KROSSING OVER ARTS FESTIVAL

WHAT: One of the biggest art events of the year in Vietnam. Created by choreographer Sébastien Ly and organised by Kerman dance company with the support of the French Institute in Vietnam, the festival promises to push the boundaries of dance as an art form with a variety of performances, screenings and workshops.

WHERE: Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City

WHEN: Usually held in April/May 

MORE INFO: https://www.facebook.com/krossingoverartsfestival/

 

9. HUE FESTIVAL

WHAT: A biennial celebration featuring an array of elaborate performances that will be staged at historical venues around Hue, including the Hue Citadel and An Dinh Palace. Founded in 2000, this year’s festival marks the 20-year milestone of Vietnam’s first internationally-acclaimed event of culture, arts and tourism. During the six-day festival there will also be street parades, sampan racing, a cuisine fair, performances from international artists from five continents and much more to look forward to.

WHERE: Vietnam, Hue

WHEN: 1-6 April 2020

MORE INFO: http://www.huefestival.com/

 

10. SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS

WHAT: Singapore’s annual pinnacle arts festival, the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) presents captivating and diverse works across theatre, music, dance, film and visual arts. For the super early birds, the first wave of shows are available for booking here

WHERE: Singapore

WHEN: 15-31 May 2020

MORE INFO: https://www.sifa.sg/

 

11. THE RAINFOREST WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL

WHAT: The Rainforest World Music Festival is a three-day global event held annually in the foothills of Mt. Santubong, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. This festival brings together on the same stage renowned world musicians from all continents and indigenous musicians from the interiors of the island of Borneo.

WHERE: Malaysia, Sarawak

WHEN: 10-12 July 2020

MORE INFO: https://rwmf.net/

SEE ALSO: Rainforest Fringe Festival (A prelude to RWMF)

 

12. GEORGE TOWN FESTIVAL

WHAT: The much-buzzed-about George Town Festival 2020 (GTF 2020) is set to return for its 11th year from 11-26 July 2020, transforming the island and the mainland into a global stage in a 16-day long celebration of Penang’s diverse arts scene and cultural heritage.

WHERE: Malaysia, Penang

WHEN: 11-26 July 2020

MORE INFO: https://georgetownfestival.com/

SEE ALSO: George Town Literary Festival

 

13. SINGAPORE THEATRE FESTIVAL

WHAT: A biennial event, organised by Singapore theatre company W!LD RICE, dedicated to celebrating contemporary Singaporean theatre through the development and presentation of new and original local writing.

WHERE: Singapore

WHEN: 5-30 August 2020

MORE INFO: https://singaporetheatrefestival.com/

 

14. KL INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL

WHAT: Launched in 2015, the KLIAF is an annual celebration of arts and culture in Kuala Lumpur featuring a city-wide, month-long lineup of music, dance, theatre, visual arts and literature works by international and local talent.

WHERE: Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur

WHEN: Usually held in August/September

MORE INFO: https://www.diversecity.my/

SEE ALSO: Urbanscapes

 

15. WATTHAN FILM FESTIVAL

WHAT: Wathann Film Festival is the very first film festival in Myanmar. WFF was established in 2011 as an independent cultural endeavour aimed at supporting and promoting short films and exhibitions in Myanmar.

WHERE: Myanmar, Yangon

WHEN: Usually held in September

MORE INFO: http://www.wathannfilmfestival.com/

 

16. KHMER LITERATURE FESTIVAL

WHAT: From classical literature, ancient oral tales to contemporary literature, Khmer Literature Festival celebrates Khmer literature, writing, reading and the writers community in Cambodia.

WHERE: Cambodia (Held at a different provincial town each year)

WHEN: Usually held in September/October 

MORE INFO: https://www.facebook.com/khmerliteraturefestival/

 

17. BANGKOK ART BIENNALE

WHAT: This year’s theme for Bangkok Art Biennale is “Escape Routes”. Artists from Thailand and all of the world will be showcasing works that reflect on issues such as environmental detriment, pollution, social malaise, gender, diaspora, inclusivity and political differences.

WHERE: Thailand, Bangkok

WHEN: 10 October 2020 – 21 February 2021

MORE INFO: https://www.bkkartbiennale.com/

 

18. UBUD WRITERS AND READERS FESTIVAL

WHAT: Bringing together some of the world’s most powerful voices in a melting pot of artists, authors, thinkers and performers, this literary festival is a platform for meaningful exchange and cross-cultural dialogue. Across five days, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival delivers an eclectic programme of events – from fiery conversations to intimate literary lunches, gripping live performances and hands-on workshops.

WHERE: Indonesia, Bali

WHEN: 28 October – 1 November 2020

MORE INFO: http://www.ubudwritersfestival.com/

 

19. SINGAPORE WRITERS FESTIVAL

WHAT: One of the few literary festivals in the world which is multi-lingual, celebrating works in Singapore’s four official languages – English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil – as well as other languages. Over the years, SWF has become an exciting meeting point of writers and thinkers in a choice spread of lectures, panel discussions, workshops, masterclasses and performances.

WHERE: Singapore

WHEN: 30 October – 8 November 2020

MORE INFO: https://www.singaporewritersfestival.com/

 

20. BANGKOK THEATRE FESTIVAL

WHAT: The Bangkok Theatre Festival is an annual platform that brings together Thai and international performers to create a new theatre experience. This three-week performing arts festival features a series of plays, workshops, talks and activities.

WHERE: Thailand, Bangkok

WHEN: Usually held in November 

MORE INFO: https://www.bangkoktheatrefest.com/

 

BONUS: These festivals are not in Southeast Asia but feature Southeast Asian works.

 

ASIATOPA

WHAT: In its second iteration, Asia TOPA: Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts returns for a three-month long celebration of the creative imagination of artists and cultures in the Asia-Pacific region. The 2020 programme is focused on new work creation alongside presentations of iconic and legendary artists and reflects the contemporary imagination and lived experience of artists from the entire Asia-Pacific region.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: The Seen and Unseen

WHERE: Australia, Melbourne

WHEN: January – March 2020

MORE INFO: https://www.asiatopa.com.au/

 

TPAM (Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama)

WHAT: Established in 1995 as Tokyo Performing Arts Market and later moved in 2011 to the “Creative City” Yokohama, TPAM is internationally recognised as one of the most influential performing arts platforms in Asia. Featuring a wide array of performance and meeting programmes, TPAM is frequented by professionals and arts enthusiasts from all around the world.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: IBUIBU BELU: Bodies of Borders by Eko Supriyanto

WHERE: Japan, Yokohama

WHEN: 8-16 February 2020

MORE INFO: https://www.tpam.or.jp/

 

Now set forth and spread those wings, you.

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