This year’s Connect with SEA 2.0 (Gender & Sexuality): Residency Onsite & Online saw me coming back as a co-facilitator with Gabbi Campomanes, a participant from the Philippines last year. Compared to the 2021 edition, where I was an observer, my role as facilitator was more involved in terms of helping develop the artist’s work: being present for (albeit via Zoom) through regular check-ins during their process, providing ways to distil ideas, and posing provocations that would enable them to find the “why” or the core of what they would like to say through their work.
Working with Malay-Singaporean dancer Hasyimah Harith (Hasyimah) was quite a formidable experience. Having lost of her baby as we were starting the residency period, it was important for Gabbi and I to ensure a safe working environment, where she felt supported, be given enough space to grieve as well as utilise her creativity as a way to cope or help her through this very difficult time in her life.
As a facilitator, it was about making sure that I approached my role with the delicate balance of “facilitate-ting,” in terms of what was expected of me and Gabbi while also being aware of Hasyimah’s needs during our sessions. Whether to provide a space just to share her feelings, listen to her and give advice when appropriate, or write down keywords I felt she needed to reflect on - I wanted to push her to be clear with her intentions for the piece she was to present at the end of the residency. More importantly, it was to make sure that she drew from her intersectional identities, cultural experiences, and current realities (and state of mind) to create work that represented her - fully.
What was great about working with Hasyimah was the amount of research she had already put in. From having conversations with her, one of the initial motivations for her work questioned societal structures that govern women’s bodies as mere vessels versus having the agency to take up space and make independent decisions based on a person’s innate instinct to what feels right for themselves. Her methodology was largely autoethnographic drawing from her personal experiences as a Malay woman from Singapore living - dealing - with societal impositions of how women and ethnic minorities are perceived and expected to act.
During our sessions with Hasyimah, it was touching to see a considerable amount of growth in her, which naturally trickled down to the evolution of her work. Combining her folk dance practice and adding layers of symbolism from women seemingly treated as a piece of meat to the traumatic memory of holding a stillborn baby, the piece transformed into a personal journey of healing through ritual. I also looked at folk dance as a means of personal expression rather than a performative artform.
Hasyimah’s Daging was presented both in person and online with the literal hands of her husband who, as audiences should take note, has been by her side as she dealt with the grief of having lost their child. He himself was part of this journey. He himself experienced grief. So to see him as an integral part of the ritual felt emotionally therapeutic. And, I can imagine, a shared catharsis of imploding individual thoughts externalised via the intimate touching of the body between two people - as if to say: I know, I feel, I lost, let’s heal.
The work presented was a powerful way to take one’s tragedy and use creative expression to rebuild or make sense out of what can seem like inconsolable circumstances. I feel that residencies such as SEA provided a purpose far better than what it set out to do, and I am honoured to have been part of it and work with Hasyimah.
--- Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan