Ambassador of France Marc Abensour FI

Did you know that each year over 200 events, exhibitions, films, concerts and conferences are organised in Singapore with the Embassy of France?

When His Excellency Marc Abensour, Ambassador of France to Singapore, arrived here in 2017, it struck him that, just like France, culture played an important role in how we defined our public spaces. The two countries signed the Cultural Cooperation Agreement in 2009 to support each other in their cultural ambitions. It was recently reviewed and extended for another decade in 2019.

Over the years, important collaborations have taken place. The Centre Pompidou in Paris hosted the National Gallery Singapore’s first travelling Southeast Asian art exhibition while the National Gallery Singapore presented Impressionist masterpieces from Musée d’Orsay, one of the world’s leading modern art museums.

A recent exhibition here called Les Arbres de Paris (The Trees of Paris) was another example of how cross-cultural exchanges have benefited both countries. Melisa Teo, a Singaporean photographer living in Paris, captured trees all around the city, including those at famous locations such as Jardin des Tuileries and the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur.

Represented by Marie-Pierre Mol, a French art historian living in Singapore, Teo’s series was showcased at the gallery of Alliance Francaise de Singapour for both the 2020 Voilah! France Singapore Festival and Singapore Art Week 2021.

(Related: Women art collectors spent more than men in 2020)

Abensour, who has one of her pieces, entitled Quai Voltaire, in his residence, says, “Melisa is a good example of the cultural exchanges between France and Singapore. We don’t pay attention to our trees when we dwell in Paris. Her pictures allow us to have a fresh look at our environment and completely renew the way we look at the city. This exhibition created new opportunities and crucial dialogue from the perspectives of two different cultures. It also created curiosity and renewed interest in Singaporeans to visit or revisit Paris.”

At Voilah! 2020, artists could not travel due to the pandemic, so the festival took on a hybrid format with 60 per cent of its programmes being digital. “It was easier for us to get well-known personalities to contribute as they didn’t have to commit time for travelling. Most have committed to come to Singapore next year after the positive experience!” shares Abensour.

Cultural exchanges aside, both countries are also big on greening and sustainable practices. Singapore was named Asia’s greenest city in the 2016 Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index, while the greening programme has been one of the key thrusts in the Paris Climate Plan. The French capital has invested 150 million Euros (S$178 million) since 2015 to increase the number of cycling lanes and bicycle parking spots.

To make the most out of each country’s green knowledge and technologies, the Singapore CEA Alliance for Research in the Circular Economy was formed between Nanyang Technological University and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission. This platform is developing advanced technologies for recycling and recovering from common e-waste such as discarded lithium-ion batteries and printed circuit boards.

In what other aspects can we exchange more ideas? Abensour thinks there are plenty. “We can do more in urban farming. In France, we are trying to grow organic food underground. With the constraint of space in Singapore, maybe we can think about using more underground space to grow mushrooms and even strawberries.”

(Related: How to be a better golfer)