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Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

Weekly Southeast Asia Radar: RPG goes SEA with crocodile; A decade of Filipino art

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:

Priyageetha Dia, Untitled (the brown body is the black body) edition of 30, black digital ink on black paper, 2019
‘Yes, I speak Indian’: What it’s really like to be South Asian and work in Singapore’s art industry
Buro 24/7, Singapore

If you aren’t Indian, the matter of diverse representation within Singapore’s art industry might have never crossed your mind. Bold as that assumption might be, it’s certainly reflective of what I’ve observed behind-in-the-scenes at our national arts and academic institutions, in curatorial teams of our prominent contemporary art galleries, and in the programming of the countless exhibitions and festivals that occur every year. Singaporean-Indian artists’ works, voices, and identities are rarely seen, heard, and validated in our public cultural spaces. Worse yet, it’s unlikely to see an Indian in any position of power to instigate change. A couple of exceptions come to mind, but you catch my drift.

This December, 11 Indian artists have banded together to explore this glaring absence through “From your eyes to ours’ (FYETO), a first-of-its-kind event consisting of visual arts exhibition ‘Yes, I speak Indian’ alongside peformances, talks, workshops, and a film screening at independent art gallery Coda Culture, which was founded by Seelan Palay.

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When Art Fair Philippines was launched in 2013, it promised less of a tiangge, more curated spaces, less about selling and more about the art and its artists. Photo by JL JAVIER

 

Art fairs, censorship, tragedies: Filipino art in the 2010s
CNN Philippines

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — There is always the impulse to be celebratory about endings — after all, we would like to prove we did something worthwhile with our time, that we’ve come out of it triumphant. We are suckers for success stories and fairy tale endings, which might also be why if there is anything that has happened in Philippine arts and culture the past decade, it’s this clear shift towards influencer-posts and press releases, over critique and reviews. The critic has no choice but to shift gears, not towards praise but towards bigger pictures, broad strokes: what informs, defines, creates arts and culture as we know it, who are its winners and its losers, who is in control, what is its crisis? Here, a preliminary assessment of the decade that was for Philippine art.

The Battle of the Art Fairs

It was in 2009 when the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) started its annual art fair, Manila Art, which was a questionable project to begin with, happening as it does under the National Committee on Art Galleries (NCAG), begging the question: why is a government agency even spending public funds on privately-owned for-profit galleries?

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Than Dong Dat Viet is the longest-running comic series in Vietnam, with more than 220 volumes. Photo via Zing.
Film Adaptation of Comic Series ‘Than Dong Dat Viet’ to Hit Theaters Next Year
Urbanist Hanoi, Vietnam

One of Vietnamese youth’s biggest childhood icons is coming to the big screen.

On December 16, Ngo Thanh Van announced that her production company, Studio68, will premiere a film adaptation of comic series Than Dong Dat Viet (literal translation: Vietnamese Wunderkind) next year. The movie is titled Trang Ti, after the main character. According to the recently unveiled movie poster, it’s scheduled to hit theaters in May 2020 as the biggest project ever undertaken by the production studio.

At the helm of the project is director Phan Gia Nhat Linh, known for his work on Em La Ba Noi Cua Anh and Co Gai Den Tu Hom Qua, both adaptations that were commercially successful. On the decision to pick Linh, Van said that “he has deep knowledge on the origins of folk stories.” According to Van, the negotiation process to acquire the adaptation rights took four years and the company spent two years sifting through 200 volumes of the comic series for script material.

“My starting point was as a fan who waited at the magazine stand every week, and then every month for a new Than Dong Dat Viet,” she wrote on her Facebook page in Vietnamese. “To me, the series represents refinement and intelligence and appeals to both children and adults.”

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Zedeck Siew’s ‘Lorn Song Of The Bachelor’ role-playing game. Via The Star
Enter the belly of an undead Sarawakian crocodile in this Malaysian role-playing game
The Star, Malaysia

Do you enjoy role-playing fantasy adventures like Dungeons And Dragons (D&D), but feel their settings are a bit too European-centric? Are you tired of classical Western characters and monsters, and want to experience something with a little more local flavour?

Then perhaps, Lorn Song Of The Bachelor is for you. Published by Hydra Cooperative, this is a role-playing game (RPG), inspired by the crocodile stories of South-East Asia, particularly Sarawak. The game’s description promises “tragedy, a bloody curse and love gone sour”, and contains creatures such as mind-controlling catfish, a Golem made of human teeth and a pregnant tiger spirit.

“In D&D adventures, players might explore deep, dank dungeons; they might meet dragons. I love reading Euro-centric fantasy, but I’ve no interest in writing it. For Lorn Song, the question I was asking myself was: what would be a “dungeon” and a “dragon” I’d like to write? What if the dragon was a crocodile?” says Zedeck Siew, Long Song’s creator, who is based in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan.

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The self-taught artist quit his day job to focus on art. Via Khmer Times
The rising of a Battambang boy
Khmer Times, Cambodia

This year’s Singapore Biennale is a sprawling, four-month-long exhibition showing the work of artists from across the globe in 11 venues scattered across the Lion City.

The immersive art experience kicked off a few weeks ago, and runs until March, but despite it taking place in the Little Red Dot, the Philippines is front and center in more ways than one: not only are five Filipino artists showing their works in the biennale, but the entire event itself is being helmed by Filipino artistic director Patrick Flores.

Is the biennale something that only the turtleneck-and-beret-clad art snob class are likely to appreciate? No. Or at least, not if Flores has his way.

Rehearsal for Opera Gandari last week. (JG Photo/Diana Mariska)
Opera Gandari Turns Princess Villain Upside Down
Jakarta Globe, Indonesia

Jakarta. Taking its inspiration from the classic tale of Princess Gandari from the epic Mahabharata, Opera Gandari played for two nights on Dec. 14-15 at Graha Bakti Budaya in Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta.

The opera comprised four acts and told the story of Gandari, the mother of 100 children (99 sons and one daughter) called the Kurawa, the villains of the famous Hindu epic.

In the classic story, Gandari is the reincarnation of Mati, the goddess of wisdom who in her human form is married to the blind crown prince of Hastinapura, Destarata.

Destarata could not become king because of his blindness so Princess Gandari in sympathy swears to blindfold herself during the day as long as they are married. Her oath is seen as the ultimate example of loyalty.

Director Melati Suryodarmo, a famous performance artist often said to be Indonesia’s own Marina Abramović, said the 60-minute show gave the audience a chance to revisit the Gandari character not as a princess villain but as a woman and a mother struggling to accept her fate.

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Dancers perform in Hindu festival Navaratri in Bangkok’s Silom district on Oct. 22, 2018. Via Khaosod English
Who is “khaek”? Exhibits to highlight Thailand’s Indian diaspora
Khaosod English, Thailand

BANGKOK — Starting this Saturday, an exhibition will show that Thai-Indian communities have far more to offer beyond the stereotypes of selling clothes, nuts, and roti.

At “Khaek Pai Krai Ma,” Thai-Indian painter Nawin Rawanchaikul will showcase the culmination of his nearly two years of work exploring the lives of Indian diaspora across the country. Launch of the exhibition will take place at Warehouse 30, located in the historic Charoen Krung neighborhood

Walking tours through Indian communities around Charoen Krung, documentary screenings, and panel discussions will also be held.

The exhibition name derives from khaek, a common Thai phrase referring to those with origins in the South Asian subcontinent.

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Director Christina Kyi (centre) explains a scene during filming at a Yangon studio on April 4. (AFP)
Lights, camera, lots of action as movie industry enjoys a revival
Frontier Myanmar

IN EARLY December, the director of the film Now & Ever (htar wara hnaung gyo), and the main actor, actress and others involved in the successful movie held a meeting with their fans in Yangon.

The director, Daw Christina Kyi, revealed how much the movie earned at the box office and what taxes had to be paid.

She said it cost K700 million to produce the film and box-office earnings totalled K2.4 billion, which was split between the production company, Central Base Productions, and cinema owners.

The K1.1 billion for Central Base Productions, she said happily, meant that the screening of the movie earned the company three-and-a-half times what it cost to make the film.

The figure does not include earnings from screening the movie in foreign countries such as Singapore and when it is screened on television or distributed as a DVD.

Christina Kyi said Central Base Productions had to pay income tax of K110 million on Now & Ever, and K70 million on two earlier productions, for a total of K180 million.

The country’s movie industry is, at long last, showing signs of recovery.

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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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