Are Street Buskers Marginalized in Singapore?


Orchard Road Busking Singapore

IG captionBuskers exist on the margins right in the center of crowds. Unless we stop to listen – not just to their voices, but also their attitudes and aspirations.

We like to say that pictures speak a thousand words. But what do these thousand words stand for? Do they speak of reality, or something else?

That night at Orchard Road, I took about a dozen photos. This was the last shot I took, one I had to wait moments for. I waited for a break in the flow of pedestrians passing by. They were turning my night photos into messy blurs that detract from the buskers. Aesthetics matter in the retelling of a tale; this turned out my best shot by a distance.

It was, of course, also highly fitting of my message: that buskers are a marginalized group. Unlike established acts, buskers have to win over pedestrians again and again. They are rooted while pedestrians keep moving. They are seen and heard, perhaps appreciated, but they remain an ‘other’ whose perceived purpose is to entertain, and no more. To the extent that they themselves cannot perceive any possibilities in their acts beyond entertainment.

A photo placing them in isolation along a popular district is thus apt. It brings coherence to the message, through an interplay between visuals and text. But is this presentation reflective of reality?

What is Unseen?

For those unfamiliar with the site, opposite the buskers were a flight of stairs. On which there were people, quite sizeable in crowd, looking on and listening. There were young couples, there were kids. There were older uncles presumably taking a breather from the stresses of weekdays. I sat too, with two friends. None of these is visible in the photo.

The critic might interject: Then is this not a distortion of reality, or even lying?

From a logical standpoint, yes, I am not representing the whole of reality. I may be distorting reality by omission. I do not deny. But this is a decision I had to make. Instagram is predisposed to value aesthetic and brevity. In that context, it’d make sense to opt for a clean message over a complex one. There is value in adapting to the platforms we use.

A blog, on the other hand, provides greater freedom for elaboration. And so I’m taking the unusual step of showing certain photos that have missed the cut of Instagram. Here they are:

With the benefit of these additional vantage points, has your take on my assessment of the plight of buskers changed?

For me, I believe they add more depth to my discussion above. 🙂

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