Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

Weekly S.E.A. Radar: Graphic novel on Jakarta’s 1998 riots; film on queer community in Brunei

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ArtsEquator 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. Here’s a round-up of content from this week, scoured and sifted from a range of regional news websites, blogs and media platforms, and brought together in one article for convenient reading.

The online graphic novel “Chinese Whispers” by Rani Pramesti reflects on Indonesia’s Chinese minority of 1998 riots that ended the Suharto dictatorship. Photo: Chinese Whispers

May 1998 Jakarta riots against Chinese: ‘We cannot heal what we will not face,’ author of graphic novel says
South China Morning Post

Indonesia’s bloody May 1998 riots are often seen through the prism of protests demanding the ousting of President Suharto, while the racial violence directed at the country’s ethnic Chinese citizens tends to be forgotten or even buried, says Rani Pramesti.

With the 21st anniversary of the unrest falling this month, the arts producer is determined that the truth about the violent episode will never be erased and hopes her online graphic novel, Chinese Whispers, will help.

Rani, the founder of Rani P Collaborations, which focuses on intercultural exchange through storytelling, was 12 years old when the riots erupted. She was naive, she says, and could not recall ever being called “Cina”, a derogatory term for members of Indonesia’s Chinese minority. She had thought of herself simply as Indonesian. [Read more…]

Kuo Pao Kun and T.Sasitharan.

Sasitharan: Cultural Orphan as a Provocation
The Practice Journal

“Everyone’s a parent to the orphan …”

Descendants Of The Eunuch Admiral by Kuo Pao Kun

The Cultural Orphan

The idea of cultural orphan was articulated by Kuo Pao Kun in the 1990s. This was a very important period because it came immediately after the decade which was, in my opinion, the most productive period in the formation of Singapore theatre identity. One of the most important factors was Pao Kun’s return to the theatre after his release from prison. He came back with some new ideas on what theatre should be.  The notion of the cultural orphan came 10 years after his return. This was a time when works in theatre began to have an impact on our ideas about identity: personal identity, national identity and communal identity. People usually see cultural orphan as a striking metaphor referring to isolation, loss and abandonment; of lacking parentage, not having parents. So, there is a tendency to think of ourselves as only being rootless – disconnected from our origins. This is what it means to be an orphan. We do not belong. It also has a sense of being helpless, of needing support, of having to find your way, of being lost.

All of these are true, metaphorically speaking. But I think the idea of cultural orphan also has a historical meaning. If we were to view cultural orphan, as a term taken from a historical context, it is actually a provocation, to make you think about what your past is, and what it should be. If you do not have a parent, then you are free to invent anyone as your parent. [Read more…]

Screenshot from “The Visible”.

A Peek Into What It’s Like To Be Queer In Brunei
Vice

In Brunei, being gay is a crime. People guilty of adultery, sodomy, rape and blasphemy are punishable by whipping, and even death by stoning – although there is currently a moratorium on the death penalty in the tiny nation. Although these laws might have been intended to instil fear in Bruneian society, young director Atikah, who identifies as queer and has asked to remove her last name for protection, only felt more empowered to take a stance. What started out as a personal art project soon became a political statement for women across the small country.

Atikah grew up in Europe and returned to Brunei last year at the age of 22. After facing extensive discrimination for her sexuality, she decided to channel her experience for positive change.

Her brief three and a half minute video The Visible explores silenced voices of both women and the LGBTQ+ community in Brunei. VICE spoke to Atikah about her video. [Read more…]

The puppeteers behind the screen give the characters in the story both movement and voices. GT2/Taing Rinith

Puppeteers behind the shadow
Khmer Times

Phoeun Kompheak’s students know him as a Professor of French Language at the Institute of the Foreign Languages while cinemagoers recognise him as the actor who played the Father in Angelina Jolie’s Golden Globe-nominated First They Killed My Father. All of his artist friends, meanwhile, know the 43-year-old as a dedicated backer of Khmer traditional art, especially the shadow theatre.

On one Friday, Kompheak arrives at the National Library of Cambodia at 2 in the afternoon, not to read books but to set up the stage. He is later joined by 12 artists, all in their 40s or 50s. Some are sweeping and washing the ground while the others are setting up the sound equipment. A large semi-transparent screen, about 10 meters wide and 4 meter high, was erected on poles approximately 2.5 meters above the ground.

[Read more…]

Paintings from the Ngan Yin Groundnuts Factory series on the left in the background
against the press clippings in the foreground. Image courtesy of Ilham Gallery.

Public Lives, Private Histories
Plural Art Mag

There’s an old photograph of artist Chia Yu Chian with a pipe in his mouth, his right arm extended and embracing his wife’s shoulders, both grinning, while a portrait of his wife seated on a lounger rests on the ground. This very portrait, Gadis Sedang Duduk, is the first painting that greets the audience in Chia Yu Chian: Private Lives, curated by Simon Soon and Rahel Joseph, and showing at Ilham Gallery in Kuala Lumpur until 23 June.

The portrait of his wife offers an intimate glimpse into Chia’s personal life and prompts us to speculate on the couple’s private life when the portrait was being painted. The eyes of the subject are half-closed lazily, as though she is beginning to drowse in her chair, but some degree of alertness remains. Perhaps she is listening to a story or conversing with Chia.

Almost all of the paintings in Chia Yu Chian: Private Lives depict the people and scenes of Kuala Lumpur and the towns that dot the Malay peninsula. The painting of his wife stands apart as one of only a few that portray his private life so intimately and openly. Hence, the “private lives” in the exhibition title refers not so much to the lives of Chia and his family, but rather, to the lives of individuals scattered throughout Kuala Lumpur and other Malaysian towns of the late 60s to 80s, as keenly observed by Chia.

[Read more…]

Consort seated at spinning wheel, c.1910. Reproduced in CM Pleyte, De Inlandsche nijverheid in West-Java als social-ethnologisch verschijnsel. Vol. 2, 1911. Batavia: Javasche Boekhandel en Drukkerij.

Review: Flowers from Universe
Inside Indonesia

The title of this long-awaited English translation of Alit Djajasoebrata’s original Dutch text is neither typo, nor haiku. Rather, Flowers from Universe, like the original Dutch title, Bloemen van het Heelal, is the literal translation of the Javanese term ‘sekar jagat’ – the name of a batik design. And the book, rather than unfolding in linear, chronological fashion, may instead be likened to the Javanese puppet theatre, whose vignettes are woven together by diverse strands. The word ‘flower’ itself (kembang) has multiple meanings that pertain to nature’s role in Javanese textiles. For example, it may signify a specific flower that is used as a motif, or one whose colour is used as a natural dye.

Flowers is packed with illustrations, spanning colonial era maps, prints, drawings, textiles and photographs. The 18 succinct chapters discuss such diverse topics as mountains, cosmic trees, pigment and synthetic dyes, Java in the sixteenth century, ritual milestones, Dutch women in Java, food offerings, Chinese traders and local legends.

It is not usually integral for a book review to discuss the biography of the book’s author. Flowers is an exception. Alit Djajsoebrata’s background informs this book, which draws equally from her memories, history, and keen aesthetic.

[Read more…]

Artwork by Charis Loke.

One year on
Mekong Teahouse

The events leading up to the surprise overturning of Malaysia’s 61-year-old regime exactly a year ago included corruption, kleptocracy and dramatic politicking. These sound like key ingredients for artwork that is equally over the top. The art of Malaysian illustrator Charis Loke, however, moves away from satirising political heads and instead shifts the focus to the everyday man and woman and their seemingly small attempts to make a difference.

A year ago, on 9 May 2018, the citizens of Malaysia came together in droves to polling stations despite numerous attempts at bridling them. The climax of a reformation movement that started approximately 10 years ago, the political tsunami that was Malaysia’s 14th general elections ousted Barisan Nasional, the ruling coalition for almost all of Malaysia’s years of independence from British colonisation.

[Read more…]

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