Learning to Leave

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“Until the age of eight, I lived on a quiet street facing nothing but trees. It was in this house that I made mazes out of cardboard boxes, towns out of pebbles, and where I fell off a see-saw, head first, on carpet grass.

In returning to my childhood home, I found history and its hazy imprint on my life. This work is about a homecoming, reconciliation, and the ceaseless speeding towards adulthood.”

- my 72-word artist statement for the Noise Singapore exhibition, opening Friday, 16 Aug, at SAM’s 8Q. Runs till 7 Sept.

Eyelids

Eyelids

Next time when you grow up,
you can go get surgery
on your eyelids.

Whenever you’re free,
pinch your nose -
it makes your nose bridge
higher.
Neh? Like that.
Look
at me,
I’m showing you
how to do it.

Why you black face?
Qian zou ah?
Anyway you look nicer
when you don’t smile.

Update Two: The Histories That Shape Us

“It’s been slightly more than a month since work began in Yangon, and we’re nearing the end of our production phase. It’s been remarkable to us to witness how much our characters have welcomed us into their lives. 

We’ve asked them some not so easy questions – about their childhoods, the choices they’ve had to make, and what they think love is. 

Many of their answers have layers of history behind them. One character broke up with a cheating boyfriend, and picked up French as a self-solacing act of recuperation. Another, as a child, heard her father admonishing her mother for not tasking her with chores, and recognized the barriers of gender that had already been planted in her life. 

These histories either pushed our characters onto the path of least resistance, or a mysterious rebelliousness occurred, and our characters swiveled and sped head on in the opposite direction. 

What differences these women have made since then, both in the workplace and in their families. One is pursuing art. Another is advocating for gender equality. All are choosing different value systems than that of the majority. 

Perhaps this is a reflection of the psyche of a nation that is spiraling towards the future. Its history had closed off possibilities for so long, and maybe it is now time for its people to choose differently. 

It is in this that we’ve found the story we’re telling – a story about the possibilities of the future, not only for women, but also for the men in their lives.”

The entire update can be found here.

Documentary Update One: The Narrative of Change

“Chris and I took a walk around her neighborhood a few evenings ago. It was a rare night – it wasn’t raining, and the air was cool and damp, almost balmy. If you keep your eyes on the ground here, you’ll see the purple splotches of betel nut stains, stray dogs curled up in sleep, and puddles formed by massive, uneven potholes – the same things that have been on these grounds for decades. If you look up and around, there are rickety windows and tiny porches, where one can peer into a family watching television, or goldsmiths working tirelessly, or a girl standing by the door in either disconsolation or boredom. For much of Yangon, change is understated. It is a far deeper thing than the sprouting of hotels, traffic jams, and mobile phone stores, and it is ultimately to be examined in light of the decisions its people make.”

You can read the rest of the update here.

24

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Largely thanks to good timing, the last five years have seen me turn a year older in a host of different countries, one for each year: Nepal, India, Singapore, Bangladesh, Burma. I have managed to return to each place at least once, if not twice. I am thankful.

In Southeast Asia, summer’s arrival often means one thing: the monsoon. Tropical rain is unlike anything else on earth; it pelts down in torrents, turning roads into estuaries, its hurricane character rendering umbrellas spineless. Useless.

Two years ago, I was caught in these rains while photographing a jetty in Yangon. I had spent my dawns, my dusks, and some of the in betweens learning how to not be afraid, learning to love the nodes beneath my fingers and what they could do in the intersection of moment and light. Later, when I flew to Singapore, I sat by the river that was overwhelmed by the shining lights of the country’s business district and mused upon all that I didn’t want in my future, and learned not to feel guilty.

I returned to the same jetty the other day. It was almost exactly how I remembered it, an un-change amidst the change. I asked about a boatman friend; it happened to be his day off, but he was still around, still working 17 hour days around his river. There is no secret other than finding something and hurling yourself at it, much like the fierce, relentless rain that pours down on my side of the world.