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My invisibility.

This past week, I joined 9 other women of East Asian/Southeast Asian descent in a residency hosted by the East Asian Ticket Club and Hawkwood College (👈 check em’ out).

Although my body stayed in the same studio, I felt myself traveling to different places: back to my childhood in Jakarta, to my grandmother’s days in a cigarette factory in Medan, as we screened Unforgettable Girl I was thrown back to last Autumn and the feeling of creating theatre with the desperation of a viral apocalypse, back to the drill hall where I spent the last days of school.

Throughout the week, Xuanh had written down different things we had said. On the last day, we listened to a recording of her voice saying each of these things back to us, as if they were her own words, in a way that affirmed it and gifted it back to us.

I found this notion of borrowing words incredibly powerful. In fact, I want to invite some people I work with to do this with me—to dive into books that speak saliently and incisively about our civilization’s watershed reckoning with capitalism and imperialism—to pick out passages that resonate with us and to say it as if they were our own.

Because until further notice, I’m done talking about “race”—especially to people who don’t know what it means to look different, to be called names or spat at as you walk down the street in the year 2021, to be treated differently for the way you talk or your accent, people whose ancestors have never been subjugated, exploited, called less-than, enslaved for centuries. It’s exhausting and in my experience, it gets absolutely nowhere. I would like to borrow the words of people with more courage than me, and I would like to listen and for people to listen to me.

It’s like seeing ghosts.

People make jokes about my name. Ho is a funny name. But I rarely say that part of the reason I don’t go by it is because I will protect myself from being laughed at for my name. Most people who do laugh, have never had their family be forced to change their name because Chinese names are illegal (the reason why we initially changed our name from Ho = Gunawan). Most people who do laugh, have not experienced violence or killings for being their “ethnicity.”

So a harmless joke goes by, and you see the ghost of violence in the back. But you learn to ignore the ghosts. Sometimes, if it’s actually funny (a dear friend once made me a yoga class playlist called “HO-ga movement”) and it’s a person you love, you don’t even mind. Nobody ever asks, but why should they know? And at this point, I’m tired of telling people who don’t believe in ghosts.

Another joke flies around about how the Arts Council doesn’t give money to white people anymore. I’m not naive, and I know there are people who must believe that people like me only get grants because we’re not white. Another ghost.

But you know, I want to be a normal person who has “that annoying friend” and let that kind of shit go for the sake of my blood pressure.

Inner Rebellions

You know that game when you suck on a candy in your mouth in class? Keeping it secret so the teacher doesn’t realize? This is the game I play whenever someone speaks a lie too loud and too fast. I suck on the sweet candy of my own blasphemous silence.

I will not feel your shame for you.

Like a comedy, our residency ended with the other group inviting us to join a small gathering on the grass to thank the staff at Hawkwood for welcoming us. A man with long curly blonde hair led us on a Sunday School prayer that ended with namaste and om. When asked how our experience was, we stumbled at an answer, and he answered with an empathic “Yes, that was exactly our experience here.” Right.

I was embarassed for him—his blindness, his vapid remarks, his mistaking our silence for approval of this attempt to bring everyone together. He thought his presence was harmless but it was like a little stain on our afternoon. But I decided that I would not feel his shame for him.

If you’ve noticed, I’ve gotten this far barely saying the word “white.” Because I’m riding the tension of 1) throwing pebbles at its supremacy, and 2) refusing to give it more power by strengthening its oneness as “white.” Even white supremacy is a construct—albeit a powerful one, the same way what brought me together with these nine incredible women is a construct, clunkily wrapped by the words BIPOC/East and Southeast Asian women (personally I prefer ‘bitchez of blazphemy’). I think instead of “white” – what we mean is people who (regardless of how they look) are still running away from the shame of benefitting from capitalist imperialism, who have blood on their hands.

That’s why the guilt, and the self-conscious liberal monologues about being privileged, doesn’t help. That’s why I realize I don’t feel like my body of work is based on my race, not (just) because I’m self-hating like the rest of us, but because I refuse to define myself on my constant conflict against an illusory whiteness. I think as an artist I transform the things I experience and sense in the world—my history and story of being invisible/visible, my movement/migration, diaspora, my relationship to capitalism/power are all a part of it. The fact that many people will see me and first see that I look different from them, is going to be a part of it.

Can we peel the wallpaper of these banal words the home office gives us and go deeper and underneath into the complexity and fragmented reality of our lives?

I realize people will read this, and feel affirmed or affronted or ashamed or awkward. All I ask is for your truthfulness, in this moment, as you read this in your head. Your truthfulness to yourself.

And if butthurt/your heart rate is triggered, keep calm and listen to:

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“First, confrontation with MYTH…

In other words, while retaining our private experiences, we can attempt to incarnate myth, putting on its ill-fitting skin to perceive the relativity of our problems, their connection to the “roots” and the relativity of the “roots” in the light of today’s experience. If the situation is brutal, if we strip ourselves and touch an extraordinarily intimate layer, exposing it, the life mask cracks and falls away.

Towards a Poor Theatre

(An aunt once told me I had a lucky face…)

Jokes aside, I do feel honoured and lucky to have gotten a grant for my DYCP. I say lucky because I know for a fact that there are many artists out there with stronger ambitions and better plans, arguably more deserving of this gift than me but for whatever reason the Black Hole has decided to send me back some money from the Arts Council. I believe in always respecting the chaos and arbitrariness that rules our lives (especially when it comes to public funds…)

Aside from the part where I promised the Ministry of Magic Arts Council England that I would blog about my project…

I want to find a way to share my work to anyone who is interested to read. I have always loved seeing the stats of my website, seeing different parts of the world light up with friends who have for whatever reason decided to grace my blog at 3 a.m. (Hello!)

The project I’m embarking on is a search for myths—the ones that exist in our culture, our families, ourselves. How do we find them and how do we tell them? I am curious about how I can share the alien world I grew up in (Jakarta in the 1990s…)/stories of the “other” we fear so much, in such a way that will make you see your own stories. I want to invite you deep inside your own story and self, and I will go deep into mine, and we will meet in the imaginary room that exists underneath the everyday.

I am curious about the universal truths that exist in our world—of which there are very few. Many things that are important to us—like power, philosophy and even human rights—are simply constructs and agreements. Here are some universal truths:

1) we all die, 2) we all have a mother and a father (even if you may not know them or like them) and arguably 3) that we all fall in love.

^not exhaustive

Universal truths are the bedrock on which we create and tell myths.

I am pulled by two poles in my research—on one hand that our bodies and our selves are the ways in which we sense the world, and that a deep knowledge and reflection as a person/artist is necessary for this work. On the other hand, that the artist needs to consciously ask—who do I need to become in order to find the freedom to tell this story? What mask do I have to create in order that I can reveal myself (paradoxically by losing it)?

So the next few months will be filled with writing, experimenting, creating work with companions like the inimitable (the word I default to when someone’s brilliance transcends my command of English) Eelyn Lee (with an exciting project for Encounter Bow, hint: 福禄寿!), Created a Monster for a premiere of Unforgettable Girl this fall, Flabbergast Theatre, Matej Matejka, and Kristine Landon-Smith, among others.

And please, I am always happy to receive random hellos, questions, thoughts, feedback, insults and all manners of shade in my inbox – about my practice or just about me personally. But please don’t be a stranger. If you want, do subscribe to my mailing list. I have nothing to spam you with (I wish I had something to sell) other than these kinds of posts, if they interest you!

More anon.

xoxo

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