Starving Artist Fair
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Why the name "Starving Artist Fair"?

JF Koh, 10 Feb 2017

A good friend of ours, Amir, posted this question on Facebook, and we thought it deserves an answer.

Amir's question:

Pardon me, but why is it called Starving Artists Fair. Does it help the cause by calling it that?

I hope no one takes this the wrong way, just my personal opinion that naming and positioning of an event, especially a series of fairs would impact how it is perceived by the public at large and possibly it's participants.

If it is meant to profile local emerging talents, why call itself as Starving Artists. It does have a negative connotation which implies that the participants are 'struggling'. There are cooler names which may be more apt. As mentioned above, this my two cents worth and not meant as a slight to anyone involved. My sincere apologies if I offend anyone.

My reply:

Hi Amir, thanks for your question. Your concerns are valid. The quick answer is that it is not meant to be negative in any way, but we chose it deliberately and thoughtfully.

Now for the essay answer ...

As artists, it's important for us to have a sense of humour and be able to laugh at ourselves. There are too many artists who are negatively affected by how they think the world sees them, but that's just a sign that they need to work on their own insecurities. We need to powerfully own our calling, and "starving artist" is a term which well describes the sacrifices we make for the pursuit of our love. It's time for more artists to get past the baggage, and be secure enough to charm others with some self-deprecating humour.

We picked the name also because it jumps out by being controversial, which, at the time of conceptualizing the event, was a serious concern -- because the venue is not exactly a crowd-puller, and the name of a brand is its most powerful asset. It has to grab people's attention and get them talking. We were not sure that, if we picked a generic positive-sounding name, it would stand out from the crowd.

The name also helps to start conversations about the struggles of artists, which I believe needs to be addressed, not swept under the carpet. I can go on and on about this, but I'll just leave it at that for now.

We also have the idea that when you use a word repeatedly over time, in a way that changes the context, its meaning in the language will shift. We wanted to reappropriate the term "starving artist", to give it a more positive meaning, so that the next time someone insults an artist with those words, it would not sting as much.

I give you two examples of linguistic reappropriation:

1. In 1998, B. J. Habibie referred to Singapore in a derogatory way as a "red dot", but now Singaporeans proudly call ourselves "Little Red Dot". We have reclaimed the name for ourselves and we successfully altered its meaning to a positive one. We have a Red Dot Design Museum, a popular artist hangout, and our SG50 logo is a red dot.

2. In the US, the word "n*gger" started life as an insult to the black people during the times of slavery. But now, African Americans address each other using that word as a term of brotherhood and affection. By appropriating that word, they have altered its meaning within their own cultural context.

You see where we're going?

When we started Starving Artist Fair in early 2016, we were the only Facebook page with that name. A year later, in 2017, if you search Facebook, there are now 3 Facebook pages containing "Starving Artist Fair". I see that as a positive sign -- that people are using and understanding the term in a new, positive way.

Search for "Starving Artist Fair" page results on Facebook:

Search for "starving artist" on Facebook yields many more results, showing that people are generally accepting of this kind of branding: