Illustration by Jared Downing | Frontier

Weekly Southeast Asia Radar: The relevance of “Soi Cowboy”; Malaysia’s Zen Cho wins Hugo Award

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. 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 in our Southeast Asia Radar.

A visitor seen sitting on one of Haffendi Anuar’s ‘Member-Member’ installation works, which are part of the Bakat Muda Sezaman (Young Contemporaries) exhibition at the National Art Gallery in KL.


This is not how you behave at the National Art Gallery
Star 2

When Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa came to town with the Leonardo Opera Omnia exhibition at the National Art Gallery (NAG), tens of thousands flocked to see her – never mind that it was a digital reproduction, albeit a high-quality one. It is as close as you would ever get to the woman with the mysterious smile.

It was an exhibition that drew a record-breaking number of visitors – 89,500 – since the gallery moved to its current location in 2000.

The show ended its one-month run on Aug 15 but it seems like the buzz has not quite died down; it has just moved to the other exhibitions at the NAG – and for all the wrong reasons.

[Read more…]

Illustration by Jared Downing | Frontier


Time for a serious chat about Yangon’s colonial heritage
Frontier Myanmar

Hungry for a Martyrs’ Chicken Meal? Or perhaps a colonial doughnut combo?

Frontier suspects that most self-respecting Yangon residents would not fancy either. Meal deals of this kind are also unlikely to ever be sold in the city. But Yangon’s most iconic building, the Secretariat, will soon be host to an unsavoury mix of historical remembrance and global consumer capitalism.

In July, news and entertainment website Myanmar Mix reported that American fast food brands KFC and Krispy Kreme had secured units at the vast brick complex, where independence hero General Aung San was gunned down with his cabinet members in July 1947.

It has been clear that commercial considerations would underlie plans to redevelop the heritage site, since the previous government handed over responsibility to the family of a former Tatmadaw general and minister in the military junta.

Malaysia-born speculative fiction author Zen Cho. Photo: iDJ Photography/DARREN JOHNSON


Malaysian author wins Hugo Award for Best Novelette
Star 2

A work by a Malaysian author has won a Hugo Award, widely considered to be the premier award for science fiction.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, by Zen Cho, received the Hugo Award for Best Novelette at a ceremony during the 77th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug 18.

This award is given to the best science fiction or fantasy story of between 7,500 and 17,500 words published in the prior calendar year.

[Read more…]


Screengrab of video from YouTube


The ‘legal’ street art of Singapore (video)
Vice Asia

Graffiti crew RSCLS and muralist Yip Yew Chong take us through Singapore neighbourhoods. We visit some iconic walls, discuss Singapore’s vandalism laws, and life as an artist in Singapore.

[Watch video]


Photo via Agnez Mo Instagram


Agnez Mo accused of cultural appropriation over hairstyle
The Jakarta Post

Indonesian singer Agnez Mo has received some negative comments regarding her new hairstyle.

The singer was first seen wearing braided hair on her Instagram post on July 22.

In a July 30 post, Agnez can be seen with her braided hair, a cream-colored one-piece bodysuit and a combination of traditional and modern accessories. She stands between two women who wear their natural hair and don traditional fabrics.

[Read more…]



Lao cinema steps forward on international stage at Locarno, Venice

The fledgling film industry of Laos is poised to take further steps forward on the international stage after pioneering filmmaker Anysay Keola’s project “Red Mekong” was chosen to participate in Locarno Festival’s Open Doors program, which wraps Tuesday, and path breaker Mattie Do’s “The Long Walk” was selected to premiere at next month’s Venice Film Festival.

In thriller-drama “Red Mekong,” the journeys of two men on diverse quests – one in search of his sister who has crossed the Mekong river into Thailand to work in a karaoke bar, and the other on a drug-smuggling mission to fund his daughter’s heart transplant – collide, and they must learn to trust each other.

All film projects in Laos have to be cleared by the country’s Department of Cinema, and “Red Mekong” was on hold for a while, pending clearance. If the Department does not approve the script, Keola plans to shoot the entire film in Thailand.

[Read more…]

Singapore’s construction industry relies heavily on a migrant workforce. (Photo: iStock)


Poetry of the proletarians
Live Mint

All of 5ft, 6 inches, Ramaswamy Madhavan looks unassuming. But as he begins to recite his poem, Empty World, one is drawn to his rich and resonant voice, eagerly telling his story—a story of struggle and existence in Singapore.

Madhavan, 28, originally from Tamil Nadu’s Karaikudi, is a site engineer at a construction firm in Singapore. Every day, after working for more than 10 hours, he returns to the room he shares with five others and sits down to write in Tamil. It is poetry that gives him solace, away from home and family—his farmer parents, three sisters and fiancée.

Like him, many migrant workers in Singapore have taken refuge in the written word. They highlight their daily lives of drudgery and the wrenching heartache of being away from home through their poetry. They publish memoirs, participate in literary workshops, win competitions and make short films inspired by their life experiences.

A still from ‘Soi Cowboy’ (2008).


Thai-Farang romance in ‘Soi Cowboy’ still rings true: Producer
Khaosod English

Pregnant with the lovechild of one of her customers, ex-Soi Cowboy prostitute Koi sits around watching daytime soaps. Her boyfriend, Tobias, an overweight Dane, gives her an elephant plushie and a gold bracelet for which he paid too much at MBK Center. She eats rice with pla too mackerel, he eats toast. At night in bed, she turns away from him.

“He thinks about sex too much. It makes me want to die,” she tells her brother, when he asks about her living situation.

Film enthusiasts gathered to watch Thomas Clay’s 2008 film “Soi Cowboy” on Saturday, at the Thai Film Archive out in the sticks of Bangkok’s far west. In a panel discussion after the screening, the film’s producer said “Soi Cowboy” remains an accurate portrayal of many Thai-farang relationships, even a decade later.

[Read more…]

(John W. Tomac/For The Washington Post)


Why crafty internet trolls in the Philippines may be coming to a website near you
Washington Post

MANILA — In a white-walled room, a small cyber-army of four is furiously typing. And posting. And clicking. And scrolling.

And trolling.

For the next eight hours, they will be glued to their screens. They are hired guns in one of Manila’s hundreds of troll farms churning out fake content, false narratives and anything else the client wants.

This trolling mission was for a candidate running for the Philippine Senate. One aim was to cook up fake social media accounts to make it appear as if the candidate had a vast and fervent base of supporters. Another goal was to smear any critics, especially those who call them out for precisely the jobs they do.

[Read more…]


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. 

About the author(s)

Kathy Rowland is the Managing Editor of, a registered charity that she co-founded with Jenny Daneels in 2016. The site is dedicated to supporting and promoting arts criticism with a regional perspective in Southeast Asia. Kathy has worked in the arts for over 25 years, working in the areas of critical writing and arts advocacy, with a special interest in media platforms for the arts. She is the Project Lead for ArtsEquator’s Southeast Asian Arts and Culture Censorship Documentation Project, launched in 2021. She has written extensively on censorship of arts and culture in Malaysia. She was a member of the International Programme Advisory Committee of the 8th World Summit on Arts and Culture, 2019.

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