Festival of Women, N.O.W. 2021: 5 Artists You Need to Know
From the perception of success to making positive change in society, these are just some of the conversations that have been sparked by the work of women creatives, change-makers and social champions in the Festival of Women, N.O.W. presented by arts company T:>Works.
For artistic director Noorlinah Mohamed, besides celebrating the not ordinary work of women, the festival “engages with issues that are important to those around us and in the process we learn how little we know of the world we live in, and how much empathy, solidarity, alliance and unity can be achieved once we are exposed and are open to know”.
For her third and final edition of the festival, which is all-virtual at notordinarywork.com for the second year, from July 13 to 31, “my aim is not to draw attention to inequalities but to spotlight the courage, fortitude, ingenuity and smarts of women, and those who identify as women, regardless of upbringing, race and class”. The festival line-up highlights the causes and issues that women hold dear, especially those that are often invisible in the mainstream media.
Take, for example, Thamizhachi: A Digital Museum of Tamil Women Under Construction, led by anthropologist and writer Vithya Subramaniam of Brown Voices, a collective of Singapore Indian playwrights, which looks at the varied and nuanced ways of being a Singaporean Tamil woman.
Curated by artists ila and Sonia Kwek, the digital exhibition nudes.sg, the third iteration of their Red Thread series, features the images of bodies, along with personal and collective narratives. The artists are inviting people to spend a little time with themselves in their private spaces to take a photo of their own bodies for themselves.
Meanwhile, artist Salty Xi Jie Ng brings together 15 women from diverse cultures and backgrounds to discuss intimacy in ageing in Not Grey: Intimacy, Ageing and Being. Noorlinah will also kick off The ‘F’ Word series of talks, where guests address the scientific, psychological and personal experience of fear, and the strategies to cope.
“I don’t think it is important to continue doing and doing. It is sufficient to light the fire, stoke it for a while, and let it burn elsewhere and in other ways. That’s the mark of the festival’s contribution to the ecosystem,” says Noorlinah, who along with four N.O.W. 2021 collaborators, share insights from their respective works. For the full festival line-up, visit notordinarywork.com.
1/5 Noorlinah Mohamed, Artistic Director of Festival of Women, N.O.W. and facilitator of The ‘F’ Word
“I have been told I am fearless and relentless but I never took notice of that description. The past year I have been slightly obsessed with trying to understand what fear is and how it manifests in human behaviours. I became increasingly aware of it, especially because of my work with youths as well as young adults who are debilitated by it, affecting their capacity to cope and engage with the world in alarming ways. Fear is fascinating and each of us, perhaps through biology and upbringing, reacts to it differently. Fear is something we all have. It is central to our lives and fear can be useful. It warns us when danger is lurking, it prompts us to be more aware of our surroundings. In short, it is vital for our survival. But when it becomes overwhelming, that’s when it can be a hindrance to our lives.”
The ‘F’ Word is held on July 13, 21 and 28 at 7.30pm on Facebook Live.
2/5 Vithya Subramaniam, Creator of Thamizhachi: A Digital Museum of Tamil Women Under Construction
“I think of my art as more concerned with the non-human objects in human lives. In this current project, it is objects of Tamil woman-ness; in a previous project, it was objects of migrant worker communities. My current DPhil study of the materialities of ‘Indian-ness’ in Singapore is actually a pragmatic modification in order to continue the degree in Covid times. Initially I was to study the materialities of territorial imagination across Pakistani and Indian Punjab. You can imagine why that’d be impossible now. But having turned these lenses onto my own country and community, and essentially myself, I realise I might have been intentionally avoiding it all these years for fear that I wouldn’t be taken as seriously for studying ‘myself’, for being ‘just’ the native ethnographer. Now that I’ve started on it, I realise it is necessary and fecund work.
The focus of the museum is specifically the Singaporean Tamil woman, everything that I am too. In leveraging the ‘authority’ of the museum form to give this project ‘legitimacy’, I also wanted to question the institution and the public discourse it represents. I wanted to point out that Tamil women were largely absent from Singapore’s museums. At the same time, I wanted to show Tamil women that they can transgress the ‘official narrative’ or the reductive assumptions of others, that they don’t only need to be in official museums to have presence, to have artefacts, to have history, to be Singaporean.”
Thamizhachi: A Digital Museum of Tamil Women Under Construction is a digital exhibition available here.
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3/5 ila, Artist for nudes.jpg
“I work primarily with my body to process the different ways in which it responds. Unlike other mediums in which the output is predictable, working with my body opens up other trajectories and possibilities which always surprises me. Recently I am interested in the body as terrain, land and receptacle of memory. In our first collaboration, Sonia [Kwek] shared with me the idea of the neutral body and I was fascinated by this potential of framing the body and freeing it from the confines of race, gender and class.
In 2019, the second iteration of Red Thread [a series of work centred on the body] made us realise that men and non-binary individuals may share similar perspectives of their bodies as women. Their relationships with their bodies are intimate and particularly unique but resonate with each other. Because of this, Sonia and I decided to continue collecting these narratives and build upon the archive to counter forms of alienation one may feel with their body.”
nudes.jpg is a digital exhibition available here.
4/5 Sonia Kwek, Artist for nudes.jpg
“I started my artistic practice as a performer, so the body has always been my medium of expression. I am also a life model and that was how I discovered my body has the potential to be both object and subject, which was liberating. Bodies are amazing. I love the endless possibilities and transformations the body allows for, the constant growth and decay that is simultaneously happening all the time, the way it is both a container and a bridge of our inner-outer worlds. I am also interested in the materiality of the body, or how our bodies matter in society, to relook what we know as norms
With the Red Thread series, we want to offer a space for people to be able to share their personal narratives. Maybe someone will find resonance, maybe not, but it doesn’t take away from whatever you feel is yours. Perhaps nudes.jpg can be a collective space for our body stories to breathe, to be witnessed, whatever your relationship to your body is in that moment.”
nudes.jpg is a digital exhibition available here.
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5/5 Salty Xi Jie Ng, Concept and Direction for Not Grey: Intimacy, Ageing and Being
“In a culture where people generally find it hard to hug, where we don’t practise naming emotions very much, it’s no surprise that discussing intimacy is taboo, much less for seniors.
Intimacy is a human need, entangled with notions of desire and loneliness, and considerations of mental, social, physical and emotional health. It has many dimensions, including physical intimacy, of which sex is only one expression. To care about intimacy is to care about compassion, connection, vitality and well-being in an increasingly violent world.
To examine intimacy is political. I think we can be more open to conversations on intimacy by first recognising what it means to slow down, and get close to something with deep understanding and empathy. If governments had an Intimacy Department, the world would be a wildly different place.”
Not Grey: Intimacy, Ageing and Being is held from July 22 to 25. Tickets for the online stream are available at Sistic by donations of $25 or $50
Festival of Women, N.O.W. 2021 is held online from July 13 to 31 at notordinarywork.com