Co-presented by Drama Box and ArtsWok Collaborative since 2013, Both Sides, Now is an arts-based community engagement project exploring what it means to live well, and leave well. While they’ve taken a bit of a longer break over the COVID-19 period, the project returns for a brand new edition this November, this time targeting the Malay community with Mengukir Harapan.
Mengukir Harapan, which translates to ‘carving hope’, represents the creators’ wish to create a culturally contextual, safe space in which the community can share their aspirations, wishes and challenges about not just death, but the journey leading up to it. “We hope to open up conversations about the quality of life one desires when entering the end-of-life phase,” says Leading Artist Adib Kosnan. “This is something that is not talked about in the Malay-Muslim community as we are usually focused on the next phase of our journey, the afterlife. But what about the days before that, for ourselves and also for those we leave behind?”
Mengukir Harapan is the result of a dedicated research process that took over one-and-a-half years. This included gathering information from experts in different fields, and stories from the community through 7 different engagement workshops with those aged 17 years old and above, meeting different demographics of the Malay-Muslim community to gain an understanding of generational perspectives on end-of-life, amongst others.
“Having presented this project for the past 7 years with a primarily Chinese audience, we very much wanted to create more culturally relevant content and approaches for other ethnic communities, starting with the Malay community,” Creative Producer Ngiam Su-Lin. “We wanted a rigorous process for this, and to be informed by the community themselves. As such, we worked with a team of professional researchers to guide our process.”
“We observed some resistance among members of the Malay-Muslim community to initiate end-of-life conversations with their loved ones,” shared Dr Ad Maulod, Lead Advisor to the research team was Dr Ad Maulod, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Ageing, Research and Education, Duke-NUS Medical School. “Children resist conversations about end-of-life to avoid offending parents while parents worry about children taking on the burden of additional responsibilities. This mutual misunderstanding is not due to a generational gap or loose family ties. Rather, strong bonds and deference towards elders among Malay-Muslim families make such conversations more difficult than anticipated.”
This research process laid the foundations for Kata-Kata Kita, a variety show that will be presented in November over three evenings. “We realise that the kind of dramatic context we’re looking for as well as the findings of our research coincide,” says Drama Box Artistic Director, Kok Heng Leun. “And that actually gives us a lot of confidence on developing the programme, turning the research into artistic work, creating the central questions that we need to engage with the audience.”
Kata-Kata Kita takes the form of a variety show, playing both in real life and online. Hosted by popular personalities Hatta Said and Gloria Tan, the line-up includes Sukar (Melepaskan), a drama performance over 3 episodes about the lives of 3 siblings, who care for their widowed and ailing father; Radio Dukacita, where DJ Big invites you to share your story of losing someone; Sketches: Pantang Dos and Don’ts, as Hatta Said and Gloria Tan improvise scenarios suggested by a live audience, such as the worst condolence message ever received; and live music by Khairul Afwan.
“Kata-Kata Kita, meaning ‘our words’, represents the stories of our community,” says Leading Artist, Moli Mohter. “Normally, we would hold a festival, with a bit of everything: music, theatre, discussions with audience members. As this year we will be going online, in addition to having limited live audiences, we landed on the variety show as the perfect format to have a range of – everything! – and be accessible online.”
The team expresses their hope to alleviate the resistance to having these conversations around death by acknowledging these issues in an entertaining and relatable manner. In future, they hope to go even deeper, and tackle the community in Bedok, where they will be creating opportunities for more in-depth conversations about end-of-life, with initiatives such as arts workshops for members of the community, leading up to another arts engagement open to the public.
Photo Credit: Zinkie Aw
Kata-Kata Kita Variety Show runs from 5th to 7th November 2021, both at Aliwal Arts Centre and Online. Attendees of the live show must be fully vaccinated. More information available here