|August 12, 2008|
|By David Cheong|
|Bears, musclebears, G-men... the lines seem to be blurring in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia as the subculture becomes increasingly visible. David Cheong highlights TheBearProject Charity Art Show to be held this Saturday and gives readers an introduction to this group of heavy-set men.|
|One of my British friends always has the same argument with me. “You can think what you want, but there is no way that you guys can be called bears,” he says hotly. “Bears are big and hairy gay men. If you’re not hairy, you’re not a bear.” I always have the same retort. To say that smooth, hairless Asians can’t be bears is to subscribe to some sort of Western imperialist ideal. Yes, the bear subculture that turned its back on the smooth, lean and urban gay stereotype did originate in the US and has become extremely popular in certain parts of Europe, but it doesn’t mean that the concept of a gay bear is exclusively Western and can’t be re-interpreted in another part of the world.|
Today, Asian bear culture is thriving not just in Japan but within little bear communities established in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. In Taiwan, the unofficial Asian “bear capital,” the bear stereotype has even gained enough mass acceptance to emerge as a mainstream gay look. Rambunctious and physical (think knee-length shorts, chunky shoes and lots of hugging), Asian bears maintain a fairly tight regional network - getting to know each other on the Internet and making it a point to visit each other when they go travelling. They hang out in dedicated bear saunas, or gulp down drinks over Chinese karaoke in bear bars like New Wally Matt and Red Point Café in Hong Kong, Same and the now-defunct Oso in Singapore and the Bearbie Bar in Bangkok. There’s even a “Little Bear Village” near Ximending in Taipei and “bear parties” in Taipei and Hong Kong.
Back in Singapore, bear culture is still nascent - hampered somewhat by persistent prejudices against heavier-set gay men whose bodies don’t conform to the tanned, V-shaped ideal. But Singapore bears are growing in confidence and making their presence felt with the formation of Singapore’s first bear community group TheBearProject (TBP).
“I started the group partly because I wanted to dispel the notion that fatter guys had low self-esteem and didn’t like going out and having fun,” says 27-year-old Ernest Yeo, who founded TBP with fellow bear Gary Lim.
“Actually, a lot of us already knew each other, so I thought why not organise activities like going to the movies or playing badminton so that we can get together on a regular basis?” The group now boasts about 120 members and it recently celebrated its first anniversary with a raucous party at Play, a dance club. According to its founders, TBP is inclusive, meaning that you do not need to be a bear to join. But assimilation is decidedly smoother if you already have the required physique. And if you’re a musclebear, you’re definitely an A-lister!
Last year, TheBearProject made its debut when about 20 of its members turned up for The Pink Picnic at the Botanic Gardens. This year, the group decided to organise an event on its own for the Indignation festival. “We thought that since quite a few of us were in the creative industries, why not organise a little art show of our own works, and auction them off to our members for charity?” says Ernest. “It would make a nice change from the usual movie outings and social get-togethers and also be a chance to do something for our community. And I guess there’s a wackiness to the idea of big heavy guys peddling fine art.”
The result is TheBearProject Charity Art Show, featuring almost 20 works from TBP members and guest artists that the organisers know personally. Open to the wider gay community in Singapore, the works will be exhibited on August 16 at Play and auctioned off for charity the same night. In addition to artwork by 10 TBP members, there are contributions from noted lesbian artists Genevieve Chua and Felicia Low, concept artist Heman Chong, painter Jeremy Sharma and photographers Tay Kay Chin and Chan Wai Teik. Proceeds will be donated to The Triangle Project, a charity initiative of The Necessary Stage that provides opportunities for the less privileged to watch theatre, as well as a number of other charities.
“It’s one of the last events on the Indignation calendar and we hope everyone can come down to see the works and support a good cause,” says Ernest. “It’s being held in a club, which is not a typical art venue, but that gives the show quite a cool, underground feel.”
Looking ahead, TheBearProject’s founders say they want to grow the group even more and help get its members more involved in the activities of the wider gay community. “A bunch of us helped the Pelangi Pride Centre move to Little India. We enjoyed ourselves and I think they appreciated the extra muscle power!” TBP also hopes to link up with similar bear groups in Hong Kong and Taiwan for more regional events. Bear Olympics, anyone?
You can find out more out TheBearProject at its website http://www.thebearproject.com.
TheBearProject Charity Art Show will be held on Aug 16 at Play on Tanjong Pagar Road, from 8pm to 9.30pm. This is a private event, so you will need to RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org to attend. All the works can be viewed online in advance of the event at http://thebearprojectcharityartshow.blogspot.com.
We are a local gay community group where size matters. Our events aim to create a friendly environment where bears, cubs, “G-men” and other stocky and big-sized men – as well as the guys who love them – can hang out, exchange ideas and mingle.
We have shifted to facebook which makes things easier for us logistically. Please look for us at TheBearProject@Facebook
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