For Art's Sake

Zentai Art Festival: If it suits you

Wearing zentai suits, 19 performance artists and participants took part in Singapore’s first ever zentai walk around the vicinity of The Substation. The event, organised by Singapore-based performance artist Yuzuru Maeda, explores the concept of non-identity and roles in Singapore’s first Zentai Art Festival. Photo: Nadarajan Rajendran
FIRST ZENTAI WALK IN SINGAPORE Nineteen people took part in Singapore’s first zentai walk around yesterday. The word zentai comes from a combination of Japanese words that mean full body tights. Organised by Singapore-based performance artist Yuzuru Maeda, Singapore’s first Zentai Art Festival explores the concept of non-identity and roles and will be held at The Substation till Nov 15.
Wearing zentai suits, 19 performance artists and participants took part in Singapore’s first ever zentai walk around the vicinity of The Substation. The event, organised by Singapore-based performance artist Yuzuru Maeda, explores the concept of non-identity and roles in Singapore’s first Zentai Art Festival. Photo: Nadarajan Rajendran
Wearing zentai suits, 19 performance artists and participants took part in Singapore’s first ever zentai walk around the vicinity of The Substation. The event, organised by Singapore-based performance artist Yuzuru Maeda, explores the concept of non-identity and roles in Singapore’s first Zentai Art Festival. Photo: Nadarajan Rajendran
Published: 5:59 PM, November 8, 2014
Updated: 6:14 PM, November 8, 2014

SINGAPORE — Apparently, it’s hard to see when you’re wearing those full body suits called zentai. The irony is that, once you put them on, everyone else can’t help but stare.

Which was what happened on Friday night, as 19 zentai-wearing folks gingerly made their way from The Substation to the SMU grounds and back, as part of the opening activities for the first Zentai Art Fest. Yet another irony was that, like faceless ghosts, they (and folks like me who tagged along) paraded past the Singapore Writers Festival, an event where identity politics has been a hot button topic, what with the Naomi Wolf-AWARE Awkward Moment and the Singapore Literature Prize for English Poetry Awkward Moment.

Video: Don Wong/Raj Nadarajan

When you zentai up, said performance artist and fest organiser Yuzuru Maeda, you become anonymous. You celebrate and embrace the freedom from the burden of identity issues. (That said, as artist Lee Wen observed from the sidelines, one twist is that in denying identity, zentai actually empowers the wearer to create or imagine new ones.)

This blank canvas nature of zentai is such that wearer (and viewer) can inscribe so many meanings into it, from the childish and cartoonish to the sexual and fetishistic. It’s for people who cosplay and for people who roleplay. It’s fun, it’s weird, it’s creepy, it’s cute.

And definitely fascinating, as they walked around in public in various colours of white, blue, pink, black, orange, gold, and even in zebra stripes! The walk was close to 9pm. Imagine if they had done it an hour or so earlier, when the SWF premises were still full of people. (I’m also glad the festival didn’t fall on Halloween, which would’ve simply appropriated this somewhat transgressive public act).

But actually, it was personally more fun-weird to see them just hanging out at The Substation Gallery prior to the walk. On display were zentai-themed videos, photographs and paintings. There were performances, too: (Justin Lee) doing something with colourful balloons, (Syv Bruzeau) squirming underneath a pile of white life-sized figures on a bed, (Tan Ai Khim) painting white-on-white and requesting visitors to stick their messages on the board. Outside, (Eng Kai Er) mimicked a clock, with clock hands stuck all over her zentai.

While all this was happening, the rest were just… there. And the normalcy of the situation simply heightened the Twilight Zone factor. Some just chilled in one corner. A group of non-zentai folk requested one to take a picture of them (without him!). Conversations took a funny turn. “Remember me?” one zentai-wearing dude asked Maeda. “Where’s Justin?” someone called out. “I cannot really see right now,” another mumbled.

All it needed was for a zentai group shot and someone calling out... “Cheese!”

The Zentai Art Festival exhibition, Invisible Whole, runs until Nov 15 at The Substation Gallery. A performance by Syv ruzeau and her zentai-butoh dancers will be held on Nov 14, 8pm. Meanwhile Marla Bendini will be holding a children’s costume making workshop on Nov 15, 2.30pm. Workshop priced at S$50. For more information, visit http://www.zentaiart.com/