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Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

Weekly Southeast Asia Radar: Cambodia’s Goddess of Flower, rave music in Indonesia

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:

 

For Edgar Calabia Samar, author of “Mga Nilalang na Kagila-gilalas,” the bloodcurdling creatures of Philippine myth represent the flipside of human life, our greatest fears in corporeal form. Photo from ADARNA HOUSE/WEBSITE
How the creatures of Philippine folklore represent deep-seated anxieties
CNN Philippines

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — There’s a fascinating incongruity that refracts Filipino world-consciousness. We believe in the doctrines of physics and the mitosis of the cell, but there is also a nuno in the empty lot across the house, or an aswang that soars over the roof at night. The Philippines is a country where it is entirely possible to know someone with a third eye. It is also a place where a deeply ingrained belief in the unseen persists. I had a professor who convinced some construction workers not to cut a tree along her street by telling them a kapre lived in it.

But no matter the degree to which we indulge precolonial myth, they will always be stories with singular worth. These aren’t mere superstitions, they’re cultural treasures, illuminating the contours of our ancestors’ creative psychology.

Edgar Calabia Samar’s recently reissued book, “Mga Nilalang na Kagila-gilalas,” is a valuable pocket treasury of the beings that have captured the Filipino imagination. Its references span regional epics and academic articles, but the end product is sharp, concise, and pleasantly readable. Each halimaw, anito, or lamanlupa is outlined in around three paragraphs. Every creature is brought to life through vivid artwork, provided for by a bevy of illustrators.

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Actress Yeo Yann Yann (centre) won Best Leading Actress for her performance in Wet Season, while film-maker Yeo Siew Hua (left) and composer Teo Wei Yong scored a Best Original Screenplay win and Best Original Film Score respectively for A Land Imagined. PHOTOS: GOLDEN HORSE COMMITTEE, AFP
Two Singapore films score at Golden Horse Awards
The Straits Times

Two Singaporean films made their mark at the 56th Golden Horse Awards held in Taipei last night, winning three awards from 10 nominations.

Malaysian actress Yeo Yann Yann won Best Leading Actress for her performance in Wet Season, Singaporean film-maker Anthony Chen’s much-anticipated second feature-length film, while Singaporean film-maker Yeo Siew Hua scored a Best Original Screenplay win for A Land Imagined.

A Land Imagined also picked up the Best Original Film Score award for its Singaporean composer, Teo Wei Yong.

Yeo Yann Yann, who is based in Singapore, was visibly emotional as she picked up her award onstage, tearing up as she thanked Chen, her fellow actors Koh Jia Ler and Yang Shi Bin, as well as her late mentor and local theatre practitioner Kuo Pao Kun.

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Artist U Aung Myint has had solo exhibitions in Myanmar, Germany, the United States, Japan and elsewhere in Asia. (Steve Tickner | Frontier)
New Yangon gallery exhibits an old master
Frontier Myanmar

CLOSE TO Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon, the city’s newest art space has opened in a colonial building of spacious rooms with high ceilings and an abundance of natural light that make it an ideal venue for a gallery.

Kalasa Art Space was opened on September 28 by Ma Su Htwe Aung, 28, who has worked in the Yangon art scene for six years, and her husband, U Htoo Aung Kyaw, 42, who’s been in the city’s art world for more than 20 years. The couple wanted to provide a venue where established and emerging artists could exhibit and mingle.

“I wanted an art space that could not only showcase Burmese art to the world, but also provide a pillar for Burmese artistic society, which has been in some disarray,” she told Frontier.

The gallery, which reflects Su Htwe Aung’s extensive knowledge of the country’s evolving art scene, also includes a small library.

The “Kalasa” in the gallery’s name, derived from the Sanskrit word Shikhara meaning “mountain top”, refers to a spire-like architectural feature that crowns ancient religious structures such as the 12th-century Ananda Temple in Bagan and can signify success and prosperity.

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The late Raphael Scott Ahbeng. Via The Borneo Post
Renowned artist Raphael Scott Ahbeng passes away at 80
The Borneo Post

KUCHING: Renowned artist Raphael Scott Ahbeng who had sold 2,300 of his abstracts around the world, passed away at the age of 80 on Sunday at his village home at Bitikie Heights, Tanjong Poting Singai in Bau.

The late Raphael left behind wife 78-year-old Anastasia Mised, four children, 11 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

When met at the St Joseph Cathedral funeral parlour here today, his youngest daughter Josephine June said her father passed away after he had fallen ill for several months.

Josephine described her father as loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

She said that Raphael was a “walking dictionary” because he did not require a note book when speaking on or teaching others about art.

He was a Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) English broadcaster, speaker on arts, stage actor, hash runner, sculptor, photographer and cook apart from being an abstract artist, she added.

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Founder of Urbanscapes, Adrian Yap (Photo: Patrick Goh/The Edge)
Urbanscapes founder Adrian Yap on the evolution of KL’s longest-running creative arts festival
Options The Edge, Malaysia 

Venues like Boom Boom Room and Rex Cinema are throwbacks to many of our pasts, evoking countless memories of raucous parties and old-fashioned cinematic experiences. As our collective memories are piqued by erstwhile adventures, we cannot help but smile when we hear these names being uttered in the present. Creative arts festival Urbanscapes, held this year from Nov 16 to 24, is drawing Malaysians back to these magical spaces of old, celebrating their completely new identities as unique event spaces — Boom Boom Room is now called The Godown KL while the former cinema turned backpackers’ hostel that was reduced to disuse now goes by the über-cool moniker REXKL.

Other unexpected venues that will host Urbanscapes’ multidisciplinary events this year include Medan Pasar, Kwai Chai Hong and the backlanes of Jalan Panggung and Jalan Bandar as well as Sentul Depot, a 110-year-old abandoned train shed. Urbanscapes is pitched as a festival that tells KL’s stories, and with its chosen venues alone, appears to have achieved this noble objective. “We have so many unique spaces that have so much unique history for everyone to learn about, and I think that adds a whole other layer to the festival,” proudly says Adrian Yap, the festival’s founder.

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Via Khmer Times
Goddess of Flower’s last dance
Khmer Times, Cambodia

IT was one evening in September, 2006. On the grand stage of a huge theatre in Prague, the capital of Czech Republic, two Cambodia Royal Ballet dancers were performing ‘Moni Mekhala’, a classic dance based on a legend about the origin of thunder. The performance was part of the newly-crowned King Norodom Sihamoni’s state visit to the Republic.

It was the first time that Chap Chamroeun Tola, one of the dancers, received a chance to perform on an international stage, occupying the role of the goddess Monimekhala, but she was not nervous. Tola was motioning gracefully and gently, with great pride, especially because she was showing the result of her hard work in front of her master, Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, the director of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, who was sitting in the front row of the audience.

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The Night I Loved Joshua Wong. Photo courtesy of Qrious Theatre
Of madness and joy
Bangkok Post

We review two original works — a Thai-language political satire and an English-language musical — with LGBTQ central characters.

La Nuit Que J’ai Aimé Joshua Wong (The Night I Loved Joshua Wong)

This comedic play reminds me of the loquacious madness and savagery in Antonin Artaud’s Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You In The Closet And I’m Feelin’ So Sad. Artaud believed that theatre should give the audience “everything in love, crime, war and madness” to bring them face-to-face with their basest selves. But while Artaud saw the capacity for the lowest forms of violence and cruelty in all mankind, La Nuit Que J’ai Aimé Joshua Wong sees it in only one group of people: the conservative elite.

Written by Radtai Lokutarapol and directed by Wittaya Sudthinitaed for a young queer theatre company, Qrious Theatre, the play centres on Coco (Natthaya Nakavech), an ultraconservative transwoman who suddenly becomes convinced that her nephew, Frank (Arachaporn Pokinpakorn), is the famous Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong. She simultaneously tries to understand her hatred for it with a foul-mouthed psychologist (Minta Bhanaparin) and sets out to destroy all that Wong represents — a bloodthirsty hunter preying on an innocent lamb.

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Senyawa. Courtesy of Resident Advisor.
Indonesia’s Experimental Rave Sounds
Resident Advisor

In the ancient Javanese folk practice of jathilan, hypnotic rhythms push participants into altered consciousness. A gamelan troupe plays the kendang (a two-headed drum), a selompret (a double-reed wind instrument) and metallophones such as kempul (a set of gongs) while dancers ride hobby horses made of woven bamboo. As melodies escalate to powerful repetition and syncopation, dancers fall into a trance and spirits are believed to take over their bodies. During this period of possession, dancers perform dangerous feats without suffering visible harm. Examples include eating broken glass, walking on hot coals and even being run over by a motorcycle.

“Indonesian music has always been a way to communicate with gods, nature and the other worlds,” said Rully Shabara, the innovative vocalist of Senyawa and Setabuhan, two giants in the country’s experimental scene. “It’s about moving beyond the material world and entering the spiritual world. When you’re performing, you’re transcending, you’re forgetting the arrangements, composition and just feeling it.”

Many of Indonesia’s cultural and religious customs are based on animism, a belief system that encourages engagement with animals, ancestors and supernatural entities. To reach a level of trance that facilitates such exchanges, shamans typically depend on the pounding percussion and polyrhythmic peals of gamelan.

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Photo courtesy of Ho Tram Anh.
On Debut EP ‘Low,’ Ho Tram Anh Sings Like a Poet Laureate for the Disconnected
Urbanist Hanoi

Is anyone else in Hanoi creating music as stark and affecting as Ho Tram Anh?

With lyrics referencing “empty streets” or the feeling that one “can be lonely but…can’t stay alone,” isolation forms the predominant theme on Low, 25-year-old Tram Anh’s impressive three-track debut EP. In persuasive and naked songs about loss, the Hanoi-based lyricist and pianist delves into the depths of human sorrow, but that doesn’t mean the songs should be considered miserable.

Featuring Tram Anh on a borrowed grand piano, Nguyen Dan Duong from Hub Collective on drums, and bass and cello arrangements recorded by Alec Schachner at Ếch Ếch Studios, Tram Anh’s debut took half-a-year to record, was mastered in Brooklyn, and recorded during brief gaps in her hectic schedule as an interpreter for international diplomacy trips.

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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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