ArtsEquator’s Southeast Asia Radar features articles and posts about arts and culture in Southeast Asia, drawn from local and regional websites and publications – aggregated content from outside sources, so we are exposed to a multitude of voices in the region. In the weekly Southeast Asia Radar, we publish a round-up of content that have been scoured and sifted from a range of regional news websites, blogs and media platforms.
Here is this week’s Southeast Asia Radar:
Puppets and pandemics: Creating art in the middle of a health crisis
Jakarta Post, Indonesia
A seemingly unending global pandemic is certainly not a good time for anyone, what with the economy tanking, leading to austerity and layoffs everywhere.
With much of the world seemingly in lockdown for the better part of 2020, the precarity is certainly felt by many in the workforce.
Of course, artists are not exempt from this rule. In fact, the situation is arguably direr for them, as events and gigs have quickly dried up overnight, along with it a steady source of income.
In the Goethe-Institut’s biweekly online discussion BINGKIS, art event manager and producer Yustina Neni said many end-of-year plans for the Kedai Kebun Forum, an alternative art space she owns in Yogyakarta, had simply gone up in smoke, even those that were still ongoing when the pandemic rolled in.
“Many events, especially from July to October, were still held but at least three weeks early. Even then we had to predict what the situation would look like, whether addressing and inviting would offend or not.
Propaganda amid the protests? Thailand’s Bangkok Art Biennale stirs debate among critics and participants
South China Morning Post, Hong Kong
Can the involvement of dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and an open letter in support of Thailand’s student-led protesters burnish the image of the Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB)? The corporate-sponsored, star-filled spectacle began its second edition on October 29 amid critics’ assertions that it is merely helping the kingdom’s rulers maintain a pretence of normality as thousands gather daily to call for the government to be ousted and reform of the monarchy.
The BAB is paid for by some of Thailand’s most powerful family-owned businesses and has received the support of government ministries. Such ties to the establishment are not an asset to an art exhibition, especially in places where cultural activities are subject to censorship by an authoritarian government. The success of BAB depends on its ability to use art to create original and alternative narratives about society and not parrot the views of those in power.
Apinan Poshyananda, the BAB’s chief executive officer and artistic director, knows that. He is a seasoned navigator of the treacherous cultural landscape in a country with strict lèse-majesté laws and an ongoing crackdown on press freedom. An art historian and former senior government official in the Ministry of Culture, he has managed to keep the biennale’s backers on board while being openly critical of the current government’s “nationalistic jingoism” and describing the cultural ministry as a “propaganda machine
Malaysian voice captures young readers around the world
KUALA LUMPUR — Beyond being young and Muslim, Malay girls Melati and Suraya share more than their backgrounds initially suggest. Melati, who was a teenager in 1960s Kuala Lumpur, loves The Beatles and watching films featuring the actor Paul Newman. Suraya lives in a nondescript Malay kampong (village) where she inherits a ghost from her grandmother, who is a witch.
Though their lives are wildly different, both girls share an ability to speak about the pain of growing up, keeping and losing relationships, and being Muslim in Southeast Asia. And it is that articulate picture of the trials of youth that has resonated with the thousands of young international readers who have read and loved the novels “The Weight of Our Sky” and “The Girl and the Ghost,” by Kuala Lumpur-based writer Hanna Alkaf.
Hanna’s novels have turned heads globally. Published by the New York imprint Salaam Reads (part of Simon & Schuster), “The Weight of Our Sky” won the 2019 Freeman Award for young adult/high school literature, and “The Girl and the Ghost,” from HarperCollins, is a finalist in the young readers category of the 2020 Kirkus Prize awards, in which winners receive $50,000.
Dayak Ikat Art in Borneo
It all starts with a dream in a sleeping Dayak woman in West Kalimantan province in Indonesian Borneo. Sometimes a Tomistoma crocodile emerges from the misty morning waters of Danau Sentarum, while other times it is the highly sought-after and nearly extinct in the wild Asian Arowana fish disappearing into the depths of the lake like a drowning red flame.
Sometimes she will dream of a family of gibbons or hornbills or even pythons, but nearly always she envisions her ancestors—hunters, warriors, elders, and leaders of the ethnic Dayak indigenous groups of Borneo. But to traditional Ikat art weavers in this region, dreams aren’t passing subconscious visions and scenes, but meaningful mementos based on their cultural and environmental milieu. And like nearly all things traditional and natural in Borneo and Southeast Asia, it is fast-disappearing.
With help from the NGO People Resources and Conservation Foundation (PRCF), indigenous Dayak women have launched an initiative to revive the Ikat weaving art in an effort that is aimed at keeping a cultural heritage alive, and in the process, helping sustain a traditional community. The Dayak people, long associated with head-hunting and jungle-dwelling, have rich traditions, and none more so than the dazzling Ikat weavings that their women they create.
Duterte: The art of ‘performative governance’
Inquirer.net, The Philippines
All the world’s a stage,” wrote Shakespeare, “and one man in his time plays many parts.”
Tossed between rapacious empires and feckless oligarchs throughout the centuries, the Philippines has never had any leader like Rodrigo Duterte. Here is a man who plays a thousand roles at the helm of power, a consummate thespian crowned by a besieged people in their darkest hours. And if we were to believe, on face value, the latest surveys, President Duterte is also the world’s most popular leader. What is his magic?
Mr. Duterte is a man of many firsts, a singular figure in our nation’s history. Not only is he our first president from the long and unjustly marginalized island of Mindanao, a land bristling with untold talent and untrammeled aspirations, but he is also the first mayor to have been catapulted straight to the presidential palace.
Culture Lab, a Creative Feast Spanning Disciplines, Media, and Even Physical Borders
Urbanist Hanoi, Vietnam
In May this year, the Goethe-Institut of Hanoi initiated the project “Xưởng Văn Hoá” (Culture Lab) in an effort to support artists and their community during the Covid-19 pandemic.
From July to December, with a series of 22 public events from theater, comedy, performance, music and design, the Hanoi cultural scene has truly come together to not only offer the public a varied program, but also to support each other’s projects that have been affected by the pandemic of 2020.
Creatives of all genres and experience levels were invited to submit a project proposal, and with encouragement from the Goethe, were able to experiment and try out new things. This refreshing addition to the Hanoian cultural landscape has seen the space filled with a variety of collaborations, giving artists a rare opportunity to receive support from an international cultural institution as well as a warm public platform to showcase new works.
Since the beginning of the program, twelve projects have premiered in the Goethe’s Nguyen Thai Hoc event hall. Highlights to date have been the powerful 90-minute poetry and experimental music performance ‘The Long Poem for Boundaries’ featuring Chinh Ba, Alex Schachner and Linh Ha, as well as the theater project ‘Happy@Home’ — a series of short plays written by four female writers that moved the audience to different stages around the space.
ArtsEquator’s Southeast Asia Radar is compiled every week. All sources and credit belong to the original publishers and writers. Click here for past editions of Southeast Asia Radar.
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About the author(s)
Nabilah Said is an award-winning playwright, editor and cultural commentator. She is also an artist who works with text across various artforms and formats. Her plays have been staged in Singapore and London, including ANGKAT, which won Best Original Script at the 2020 Life Theatre Awards. Nabilah is the former editor of ArtsEquator.