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Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

Rethinking contemporaries: Asian Producers’ Platform Speaker Series

By Wennie Yang

(690 words, 2-minute read) 

There is a quiet and perhaps stubborn optimism that underlies the work of a producer. Perhaps one could call it an occupational hazard, always seeking new ways to do things. This spirit seemed to drive the most recent Asian Producers’ Platform (APP) open forum, which took place from 11 to 12 November. The forum capped the APP VR3, a virtual research and residency aiming to rethink the future of the performing arts ecosystem and industry.

This article recaps the Speaker Series, which took a deep dive into contemporary concerns in Asia. It comprised three presentations: on decolonisation and the arts by curator Dr. Sadiah Boonstra; intersectionality by Korean artist Park Younghee; and the cultural and climate crises in the Philippines by performance artist JK Anicoche. 

Decolonisation has gained momentum 

Dr. Boonstra began her talk, Performing Arts and Decolonial Approaches from Southeast Asia, by noting how the discourse of decolonisation has gained momentum across the arts and cultural sector, a result of decades of knowledge production by artists, activists, and historians through various artistic interventions. 

Dr. Boonstra, who is of Indonesian and Dutch descent, shared how through her curatorial practice she learnt that it is easy to get fixated on colonially constructed concepts, such as replacing tradition with modernity when tradition is actually a continuum of heritage and still influences practices today. She suggested that practitioners dispose of the dominating narratives of what ‘contemporary’ artforms should be, and not fall into the fallacy of frameworks and terminologies. This got me thinking about the practice of artspeak, with its connection to notions of ‘modernity’, ‘global standard’ aspirations and the Western-dominated art market, and its resultant inaccessibility to so many.  

Embedding intersectionality into protocols is a necessary exercise

This segued nicely into Younghee’s presentation on building safe spaces in theatre. As a practitioner working between Korea and Australia, Younghee cited how the #MeToo movement had prompted reviews of theatre-making protocols in the West, and yet barely registered in Asia.

Younghee shared that safety in Korea is primarily focused on the physical aspect, with policies that are either weakly enforced or not known to practitioners. The patriarchal structures and ‘we are a family’ attitude also means that boundaries are often blurred, leaving certain groups, especially emerging female artists, open to exploitation and harassment. “As a family, it feels wrong to ask for proper compensation and to report misconduct,” Younghee said. There is also a lack of support from legal institutions.

As a first step to creating safe spaces in theatre, Younghee suggested that risk areas be identified through the lens of intersectionality, by taking into account how different aspects of a person’s identity can expose them to various forms of discrimination. She posited that the more overlaps there are in codes and standards addressing these issues, the more inclusive spaces will be.

Climate crisis = cultural crisis = crisis of imagination

Rounding up the Speaker Series was JK Anicoche, who shared how the climate crisis is very much linked to the cultural sector in the Philippines. He noted how artists who try to respond to climate change run the risk of being branded as dissidents or terrorists by proponents of the current regime – a practice known as red tagging. He called this a crisis of imagination.

As a possible counter to this, JK shared how performance makers can use their various languages to fluidly connect different disciplines and find allies. “We should broaden the definition rather than give up artmaking [and] allow ourselves to see possibilities in how we shift our resources,” he suggested. Besides generating narratives, artists can focus on direct action such as democratising access to information and enhancing voter education in preparation for the upcoming national election. 

How can we regenerate our future? That was the theme of APP VR3 and the three speakers showed how arts and cultural producers can think through new approaches for sustainability and regeneration. With these renewed philosophies and perspectives, we may yet see a new way ahead.

 

Wennie Yang and ArtsEquator join the Asian Producers’ Platform in expressing our condolences over the recent passing of JK Anicoche. 


APP VR3 is a virtual research and residency organised by the Asian Producers’ Platform. The Speaker Series was part of an open forum that took place on 12 November.

 This content is sponsored by the Asian Producers’ Platform. The money earned from paid advertising goes towards covering ArtsEquator’s running costs and paying our writers and content creators. We have a strict policy regarding which content which can and cannot be sponsored. To read more about our editorial policy, please go here.

Wennie Yang is an arts manager and finance administrator from Toronto, Canada with general management experiences in the not-for-profit arts sectors spanning from Toronto to Singapore. After graduating with a BA in Accounting & Financial Management at the University of Waterloo, she further completed a MA in Arts & Cultural Leadership at LASALLE College of the Arts.

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