Saturday, 17 November 2018

Aga Szydlik | Singapore's Street Opera

Photo © Aga Szydlik | All Rights Reserved
Readers of The Travel Photographer blog know of my current long term involvement in documenting Chinese Opera of the diaspora; an involvement that will culminate into the production of a coffee-table book bearing the same title. It is for this reason that the blog has been recently populated with posts with excellent work of Chinese opera by travel and documentary photographers.

Aga Szydlik's Wyang: Singapore's Street Opera work is one of those. Her close-up portraits of the opera actors are striking by their unvarnished look.

The earliest description of wayang in Singapore dates all the way back to the mid-1800s. For more than a century, jiexi (street opera in Mandarin) enthralled more audience than any other form of live entertainment. 

At one point, the flourishing scene supported over a hundred professional troupes that staged thousands of shows each year. Some of them even had their own dedicated venues in the city state's Chinatown.

However, now only about 10 professional street opera troupes are left in Singapore, drawing an ever-smaller audience of elderly people. The decline of street opera in Singapore was caused by its government's policy to replace dialects (such as Hakka, Hokkien et al) with Mandarin, and the slow erosion of its audience. The spread of television, movies and social media platforms exacerbated the disinterest of the younger generation in this ancient art form.

Aga Szydlik is a professional culture photographer and a doctoral candidate based in South Africa. She tells us that her journey with photography started with Muay Thai (the famous Thai fight style) which she documented extensively. Based in Thailand, she able to explore South East Asia, onwards to Indonesia and South Africa. She is enthusiastic about alternative processes, analogue photography, Lomography and salt/albumin prints as well as mixed media.