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:
Myanmar Artists Turn to Social Media to Share Work Despite Coronavirus
The Irrawaddy, Myanmar
As people turn to social media to connect with friends, family and the world during the coronavirus pandemic, some waste hours and hours while others stay productive as they stay at home. In Myanmar, people from the movie, music, arts and other industries are pushing one another to use the extra time to boost their self-worth keep up their craft—posting creative challenges asking users to make a “one minute film” or perform a freestyle rap related to coronavirus, and supporting one another through isolation.
According to Ko Thaid Dhi, a filmmaker and organizer of well-known local film festival Wathann, all this free time offers a chance to improve ourselves and boost our self-worth.
The Wathann Film Festival team recently organized an online collective animation project with a large group of animators, each of whom contributed about 18 drawings to create a short, 1:20 animated video. The video is now uploaded on the Wathann Film Festival Facebook page.
26 years of Upholding Sbek Thom Heritage Ends for Association
Khmer Times, Cambodia
Sitting in a clear room in Sovannaphum Art Association, its director Mann Kosal looked around the theatre where he used to work for 26 years until it closed recently.
With a wry smile, Mr Kosal says: “We are going to be closed from now on.”
The 60-year-old Sbek Thom master takes a deep breath before continuing to explain the reason behind the closure: “The association is running out of funds to support its operations, including the rent, which is a huge sum.”
He adds that although there was some help coming from one way or another, it was not enough to sustain operations without audience support.
Eyes wide open
Bangkok Post, Thailand
The literature about modern Thai politics is not abundant, and by this I mean a narrative that grounds its characters in the double-whammy of coup d’etat and street protest that characterised the mid-2000s to mid-2010s. The period, plus a few years earlier when Thaksin Shinawatra rose to power, contains some of the most convulsive and era-defining moments that continue to shape the visible and invisible dimensions of Thai society in the present time, and it’s astonishing that not more writers find it a rich wellspring of artistic expression (on the contrary, visual artists and theatre artists seem more responsive to the political currents of the same period).
Ta Sawang (Il Re Di Bangkok), written by Claudio Sopranzetti and Chiara Natalucci, and illustrated by Sara Fabbri, is a graphic novel of an eerie power as the protagonist’s journey doubles as a narrative of Thailand’s social and political history. Sopranzetti is an Italian anthropologist whose recent study on Thai motorcycle taxi drivers and their role in street politics is acclaimed for its scholastic scrutiny of seemingly ordinary, often taken-for-granted urban workers. In Ta Sawang, which means “seeing light” or “eyes wide open”, he turns his 10-year-long anthropological research and oral interviews into a semi-fictitious narrative in which the destiny of the main character is influenced by key political happenings in Thailand, with the climax set during the May 2010 crackdown on red-shirt protestors, an event which marks its 10th anniversary this month.
The book originally came out in Italian and has been translated into Thai by Nuntawan Charnprasert (her publishing house, Reading Italy, specialises in Italian literature). The English version is expected to be ready next year.
From martial law to COVID-19, Lualhati Bautista remains an important voice
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Of the many things that surfaced during this coronavirus crisis, one of the more painful ones is for cultural workers — artists, writers, performers: that we might be possibly irrelevant. We are first to lose our jobs, we are lowest on the list of government priorities for aid or assistance (if we’re even on that list at all), and if we are to listen to science, our work will be the last to get back on its feet.
We can wax romantic, of course, about our value: the world should thank us for the books they read and the TV shows and films they watch while on quarantine. We can insist that our value is beyond the monetary and concrete, as it is about the figurative and abstract — influencing generations of readers, changing the minds of viewers, capturing the hearts of spectators. But the latter isn’t going to put food on our tables, or pay the rent. It could unseat a President, but what energy might we use to do that if we have no money for food?
We do not like asking these questions, sustained as we are by toxic positivity, the kind that this government likes to appropriate and use to its advantage. We deny ourselves the complexity of discussion, and seek the safety of echo chambers — if we find those who agree with us, then those who think differently can be silenced completely.
Migrant workers, Migrant writers
The Straits Times, Singapore
The recent spike in coronavirus infections among migrant workers in Singapore has put a spotlight on the living conditions of a foreign workforce long invisible to many.
Among the more than 10,000 workers who have tested positive for Covid-19 is poet Zakir Hossain Khokan, 41, a Bangladeshi construction supervisor who was living at dormitory Cochrane Lodge II when he contracted the disease.
Zakir, a former freelance journalist, is a two-time winner of the Migrant Worker Poetry Competition and founder of One Bag, One Book, a book-sharing movement among migrant workers.
On the morning of April 16, he began feeling sick. After he got in touch with a Ministry of Manpower officer he knew, he was taken by ambulance to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, where he has been warded since.
Coronavirus: Singapore, Malaysia arts workers left reeling from cancelled shows, lost income
South Asia Morning Post
Kegan Venard’s life has been upended in more ways than one.
Over the past eight years, the 31-year-old overcame the vagaries of freelance work to establish himself as a regular lighting technician in Singapore’s flourishing theatre scene. On Valentine’s Day, he proposed to his girlfriend, a single mother with two young daughters, and they were set to wed in October.
Then the Covid-19 situation escalated in March and he found himself in dire straits. Shows which would have kept him hired until December were all cancelled, and he felt forced to postpone his wedding. To keep paying the bills and supporting his soon-to-be stepdaughters, he dusted off his bicycle earlier this month and started work as a GrabFood delivery rider.
“I often start the day trying to ‘psycho’ myself with positive thoughts. Like, ‘At least I get to spend more time in the sun,’ or, ‘I’m doing a good thing getting food to people,” Venard said in a phone interview. “But inevitably, after a few deliveries, my mood dips and emptiness sets in. It’s not just about the money. I loved my old job. This isn’t what I’m meant to be doing.”
Vietnamese Curator Do Tuong Linh on Creating a Global South-Led Art Scene
Walking into the Vincom Center for Contemporary Art (VCCA) in Hanoi, visitors almost immediately encounter a fifty-foot line of dirt and small rocks. The pathway of sorts — which some visitors step over more gingerly than others — leads to a large sculpture of a man standing in the center of the gallery space, his faithful dog sitting at his feet.
Heading further into the vast, airy space, visitors are confronted with a long line of paintings across the left wall of the gallery depicting the inside of a slaughterhouse through a series of images. The medium for these images is dubbed “mixed media” on the gallery program, as they were drawn partially using animal blood — a statement by the artist on the violent persistence of animal consumption.
The exhibition was co-curated by Do Tuong Linh, a 33-year-old Vietnamese researcher and art curator with a track record for unique and subversive artistic exploration. The sculpture work by Nguyen Dinh Phuong and the slaughterhouse paintings by Nguyen Van Du are two of eight works from nine emerging artists making up The Foliage III, the third iteration of the VCCA’s annual collection.
Dancers keep show going on virtual stage
Jakarta Post, Indonesia
Virtual settings provide a new home for self-expression for the dance community as it is deprived of its stage.
Slump in productivity and cashflow concern are among the most severe impacts of the global health crisis, which also hit the dance community. But the show must go on.
“I have talked to various dance communities in different parts of Indonesia. And if I may conclude, the gist [is that they] yearn to be back, performing again,” said Ratri Anindyajati, a dancer and art performance producer.
As a survivor of COVID-19, identified as Case No. 3, Ratri took the opportunity to become the ambassador of Saweran Online, a crowdfunding dance program in which viewers can “pay” for entertainment and at the same time express their concern and support for dancers’ welfare.
“The pandemic has taken away the stage and their ability to perform in public space. For the dance community, dance is their fighting spirit. To get through this uncertain time, they have to keep on dancing,” she added.
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.