Last year Amanda Nell Eu asked me to do production design for her second short film, ‘Vinegar Baths’. I worked on her first (my first too!) a couple of years ago: ‘Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu’, which I blogged about here. In the process, I developed an appetite for designing sets and characters for film. Compared to my main body of artwork, it’s a much weirder and darker me that comes out to play.

Incidentally, the shooting of ‘Vinegar Baths’ began just as I’d gotten out of a terrifying encounter with the supernatural while on an art exchange programme overseas. It was the darkest experience of my life, from which I count myself fortunate to have returned intact. Maybe it wasn’t the most sensible thing to plunge into making a monster-ghost movie immediately after, but it turned out to be good for my mind and spirit. Film-making is about assembling a story piece by piece. I had to do the same, to survive and heal from my experience. Step-by-step, scene-by-scene.

This is the first drawing I did, of the main character, Chin, a maternity nurse who also happens to be on-call when women and girls don’t want to keep their fetuses. She’s looking kindly down on Vivian, one such woman.

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Above is a page from Hantu Hantu: An Account of Ghost Belief in Modern Malaya by J.N. McHugh (Singapore, 1955), with illustration by A.F. Anthony. I was particularly taken with the description of her as ‘a flying rope of fire’.

After reading the script, I texted Amanda this photo of moth balls, saying ‘I already know what the colour palette will be’. Candy-pastel poison. In public toilets in Southeast Asia, you’ll often find these pretty balls in the sink holes, to stop cockroaches from crawling up.

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Here are some scene drawings. I was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s painted storyboards. I used Buncho oil pastels to force myself to be less precise in the drawing, to focus on mood and atmosphere.

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I would’ve done more full-coloured drawings, but was pressed for time. Art for film is about the film, not the art.

Some stills from the movie (all courtesy of Amanda Nell Eu, don’t reproduce without permission):

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I like set design, but I REALLY love costume design. Working on Amanda’s films, I’ll see the overall colour palette first, then I’ll see what the characters are wearing. Everything else comes pretty smooth from there.

Here’s a page from my character deck for Chin. (Btw, I learned how to do decks for film by taking part in ASTRO Shortcuts Workshop in 2016. I was invited by Amanda to be part of her team for ‘Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu’)

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Her make-up look was faded, badly-done semi-permanent tattoo make-up. Inspired by these trippy pictures on the internet:

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‘Vinegar Baths’ just won the Next New Wave Award and SeaShorts: Best Cinematography Award at SeaShorts Film Festival 2019 in Melaka. Happy to have worked on this pastel-coloured, blood-soaked film. Shout out to the stellar Art Team for bringing the production design to life.

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Amanda along with other winners at SeaShorts Film Festival 2019. Photo from SeaShorts Film Festival Facebook page.

About that blood. Here’s a couple of my own production shots:

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Some drawings I made for International Women’s Day.

Free to download, share, print, use for non-commercial purposes ONLY.

International Women’s Day March on SAT, 9 March 2019.

Meeting points:

  • 8AM, Jesselton Point, Kota Kinabalu
  • 10AM, SOGO, Kuala Lumpur

More info: https://womensmarchmy.wordpress.com

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1) *CLICK HERE* to download hi-resolution (9.4 MB)

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2) *CLICK HERE* to download hi-resolution (11.4 MB)

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3) *CLICK HERE* to download hi-resolution (7.2 MB)

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4) *CLICK HERE* to download hi-resolution (11.7 MB)

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5) *CLICK HERE* to download hi-resolution (9.2 MB)

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6) *CLICK HERE* to download hi-resolution (10.4 MB)

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7) *CLICK HERE* to download hi-resolution (6 MB)

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mountain

10 Dec 2017 – The hallway to the kitchens is thick with people and the smell of boxing oil. I’m not fighting tonight, but feel as anxious as I would at an art opening: I’m smiling too much, overly aware of being tall, and compensating for it (to whom?) by darting furtively along the walls, like a rat.

I hear my name, and see kru A.’s hand raised above the crowd in that familiar gesture when he calls me over to him to start training. He’s almost naked, except his hips, which are wrapped neatly in dark red cloth, secured with ropes running over the front and back. His hands and arms are armored in rope up to the elbow. He’s about to perform the ceremonial wai kru to open the event tonight. We both glance down at his body, shining with oil and sweat. ‘It’s hot!’ he says, laughing. ‘You look… you look… good!’ I stammer back, feeling like a rock star just said hello to me backstage. I wonder if I should hug him or ask for a selfie, instead I blurt out ‘Uhh, I’ll see you later!’ and scurry away, mouthing ‘Sharon, you idiot’ to myself like a dazzled 16 year-old.

I find the corner where my teammate V. is waiting to face her first fight. Fear and ebullience hits her in alternating waves, closer and closer together, like labour contractions. ‘Whooaahh, I feel alive!’ she whoops, followed immediately by ‘Oh shit. I need to pee. Why do I need to pee again? I just peed 2 minutes ago!’. I laugh and hold her hands and massage her shoulders, glad it’s her and not me, but envious too.

The familiar snake music drifts over, and I sneak into the ballroom where the stage is. It’s just starting. Kru A. is in the middle of the ring, hazy in the spotlight. When he moves he seems bound and unbound by the sinuous sound – now pulsing, now liquid – and above, or perhaps, below it all, stillness. His face is drawn inward, as if looking at a point far inside where the people watching can’t go.

After certain movements, he nods his head slightly, as if to himself. They’re enigmatic and weirdly articulate, those nods. Appraising. So the sun might nod to a mountain, or a wall, or a tomb, or the edge of a meadow, as it moved across them. A tiger might nod like that to a king, before it decided to eat him, or walk away.

His complete presence in his body makes me suddenly aware of my own. My back straightens; I take a breath. Another. My eyes come back into my face – I realize they’ve been floating about like holographic projections on the lam. My attention follows, sliding into focus, sweet and sure. The sense comes back into my sinews.

He raises his arms, fists outwards, and his torso arches like a tongue of light. I feel the beauty undoing me, the beginning of tears.

My whole being is suffused with hopeless longing, shot through with a sharp prick of joy: light glinting off the peak of a mountain I will never reach. The grace, the self-possession. The total ownership of body. More than winning fights, more than anything, I want that; to earn that.

All through the evening and night, through the ups and downs of the fights, the afterimage of my kru lingers. A quick ride home, a hasty dinner. At last, in the quiet hug of solitude, I tell myself, then text it to the people I love: I saw a mountain today, I saw a mountain.

~

Gone to look for my body’ is a line from a song called ‘Weary’ by Solange, on her 2016 masterpiece album A Seat At the Table.

I’ve been wanting to write about training muay thai since last year, but my mind has always come first, and this was something I wanted to just let my body do. Then I realized I was stockpiling notes, feeling the wave of words come, and letting them break into foam, lost. I’ve been gone, standing on the shore, listening to the roar. Now I have its rhythm, and write my way to the return.

Part 1, Part 2

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Proposal for a Collective Decision-making Model for the Visual Arts Community in Malaysia

< Draft 01, 17 May 2018 >

  • This proposal calls for visual artists and art practitioners to assemble in self-organized groups based on affiliation or locality, known as Sidang Lokal (Local Assemblies), to discuss issues directly affecting them.

  • It then calls for a Sidang Umum (General Assembly) to be held at a public space or institution, where delegates appointed by each Sidang Lokal present, coordinate and administer the viewpoints and decisions of their local assemblies.
  • Each Sidang Lokal appoints two members, 1 female and 1 male, to be delegates at the Sidang Umum.

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SIDANG LOKAL

  • Sidang Lokal groups are self-formed and self-organized amongst artists and art practitioners.

  • Groups may be based on affinity, locality, or already existing associations.

  • The purpose of the Sidang Lokal is for artists and art practitioners to gather in groups of their choice, to discuss and make decisions on issues that impact them directly.

  • Membership can change, but each Sidang Lokal must consist of at least 11 members. There is no upper limit on membership.

  • Existing registered associations can only form one Sidang Lokal regardless of their membership size.

  • A person can only be a member of one Sidang Lokal.

  • Attendance and minutes should be recorded at every Sidang Lokal meeting. This duty rotates amongst the members.

  • Decisions are made by consensus and majority vote.

  • Each Sidang Lokal appoints two members, 1 female and 1 male, to be delegates at the Sidang Umum.

  • The delegates are strictly mandated, recallable, rotated frequently and responsible to their Sidang Lokal. Their function is purely administrative and practical.

  • The power of policymaking is the exclusive right of the Sidang Lokal. Delegates to the Sidang Umum are strictly responsible for the coordination and execution of the policies adopted by their Sidang Lokal.

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SIDANG UMUM

  • Sidang Umum is a general assembly, held at regular intervals, where appointed delegates from the various Sidang Lokal present, coordinate and execute the viewpoints and decisions made by the local assemblies.

  • The purpose of the Sidang Umum is to form a network for information sharing and collective decision-making on issues that impact the entire visual arts community.

  • The role of the Sidang Umum is limited to coordination between the many Sidang Lokal.

  • The goal is always to maximize local power and autonomy while achieving a necessary degree of communication and coordination across the community.

  • All decisions made at the Sidang Umum must be formally adopted by the Sidang Lokal in order to be binding to their members. For example, if the Sidang Umum votes that a formal written request be made to the ruling government to establish a separate Ministry of Arts and Culture, and one or more Sidang Lokal do not agree, the members of those local assemblies are not required to be signatories to the request.

  • Sidang Umum should be held in a public space or institution in open session. If the assembly moves into closed session, this will be voted on by the delegates of the assembly.

  • Responsibility for chairing and recording minutes of the meeting rotates amongst the delegates of the Sidang Umum.

  • Decisions are made by consensus or majority vote.

———

GENERAL PRINCIPLES

  • This system is based on the principles of direct, face-to-face democracy and participatory administration.

  • The crucial elements are decentralization, localism, self-sufficiency and interdependence. This model democratizes community interdependence without surrendering the principle of local control.

  • Distinction between policymaking and administration must be emphasized. The power of policymaking rests in individual citizens at the Sidang Lokal level. The Sidang Umum or other regional councils have the responsibility of administering and coordinating those policies.

  • Appointed delegates or representatives are strictly mandated, recallable and rotated frequently.

  • Differences and diversity are welcomed. Minority opinions should be given space and hearing, but decisions can be made by majority vote.

  • Consensus should not override democracy in decision-making. It is the process of discussion and decision-making that drives innovation and adoption of new ideas.

  • Gender equality is paramount. Delegates to the Sidang Umum must consist of 1 female and 1 male from each Sidang Lokal. Assemblies at all levels must strive for at least 40% representation of either gender.

———

IMMEDIATE NEXT STEPS

  • Translate this proposal into various languages. Anyone!

  • Artists and art practitioners are encouraged to start forming their own Sidang Lokal, organizing meetings, recording minutes and sharing the outcomes publicly.

  • Prepare an updated draft of this proposal based on feedback.

  • Send this proposal to key government officials in charge of arts and culture, as well public art institutions in Malaysia, calling for their endorsement and for them to organize and call an inaugural Sidang Umum for the visual arts community.

———

 SCOPE & BASIS

  • This proposal is based on American social theorist and political philosopher Murray Bookchin’s (1921 – 2006) model of LIBERTARIAN MUNICIPALISM, in which citizens make decisions collectively through face-to-face democratic neighborhood assemblies. These decisions are implemented through a CONFEDERATION or network of administrative councils, whose delegates are elected directly by, and are responsible to, the popular assemblies.

  • It draws heavily from two essays in particular (linked below): ‘A Politics for the Twenty-first Century’ (1998) and ‘The Meaning of Confederalism’ (1990).

  • It was prepared by Sharon Chin, in consultation with Tan Hui Koon, Danny Lim, Zedeck Siew and Ooi Ying Nee.

  • It was prepared in the context of the Malaysian visual arts community, but the model and its principles can be adapted to communities exploring bottom-up, directly democratic ways of collective decision-making.

———

FURTHER READING & RESOURCES

Loomio is a simple, user-friendly online tool for collaborative decision-making. Loomio lets you host discussions online, invite the right people to participate, come to timely decisions and transform deliberation into real-world action.

Explore by joining the Sidang Lokal Test Group here: https://www.loomio.org/join/group/a1gxHEtWQNSkGQciwAPUjMj4/

  • Murray Bookchin, ‘A Politics for the Twenty-first Century’ (1998) and ‘The Meaning of Confederalism’ (1990)

These two essays are from the book The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy, published by VERSO. They can be found in PDF format here, strictly for educational and non-profit purposes only: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LAxvUM9UG9c8Leo-3Vr2C4JHrhUEeqno/view?usp=sharing

From Athens to New York, recent mass movements around the world have challenged austerity and authoritarianism with expressions of real democracy. For more than forty years, Murray Bookchin developed these democratic aspirations into a new left politics based on popular assemblies, influencing a wide range of political thinkers and social movements.

With a foreword by the best-selling author of The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin, The Next Revolution brings together Bookchin’s essays on freedom and direct democracy for the first time, offering a bold political vision that can move us from protest to social transformation. A pioneering voice in the ecology and anarchist movements, he is the author of The Ecology of Freedom and Post-Scarcity Anarchism among many other books.

There’s a revolution going on in northern Syria, one that challenges everything we know about government and society and freedom. With centuries of ethnic oppression behind them, their backs against the embargo wall of Turkey, and the ruthless forces of the Islamic State laying siege to their cities, the people of Rojava are trying what might be the most ambitious social experiment of our times. Two-and-a-half million people are trying to live without a nationstate, using direct democracy to build a society ruled from the bottom up. As the Syrian civil war rages, the Kurds and other ethnic groups of Rojava fight for autonomy, feminism, ecological stewardship, cooperative economics, and ethnic, linguistic, and religious pluralism.

It behooves us to understand their struggle as best we can. This book, compiling the words of militia members and academics alike, lays out the Rojava Revolution in plain language.

The introduction and overview of the Rojava situation can be read in its entirety at: http://www.tangledwilderness.org/a-mountain-river-has-many-bends/

 —

A chronicle of one of the most dynamic experiments in radical social transformation in the United States. The book documents the ongoing organizing and institution building of the political forces concentrated in Jackson, Mississippi dedicated to advancing the “Jackson-Kush Plan”.

Jackson Rising documents the history of this movement, its contributions towards the radical transformation of the United States, and its political implications for social movements throughout the United States, the global South and the world.

 —

Building a solidarity economy in Jackson, Mississippi, anchored by a network of cooperatives and worker-owned, democratically self-managed enterprises.

——— END ———

PDF version of this document: AYUH MERAPAT_ ASSEMBLE NOW Draft01

Word version of this document: AYUH MERAPAT_ ASSEMBLE NOW Draft01

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My knee in March 2016

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11 Oct 2017: I spent last week sick and denying it. When the fever started on Monday, I thought I would be back in training by Wednesday, and when it was accompanied by a dry hacking cough that kept me up for the next five nights, I was still stubborn enough to book class on Saturday, which, of course, I had to cancel.

My mind went strange places, including convincing myself that wellness was a matter of will. A real fighter wouldn’t let a cold stop their training, in fact, a real fighter wouldn’t have gotten sick at all.

In short, while my body was fighting a virus, I was fighting my body. The fever came and went. I was like an abusive lover, tenderly feeding my body vitamins one moment, berating it for not responding by instantly getting well the next.

It was the same when I injured my knee last year. The same mental tape. When? When will you be back to the way you were? And why? Why are you not healing the way I want you to, in the time that I need you to? Rehab exercises, turmeric, physio sessions, kinetic tape – what else do you want from me?

Hyper-vigilant and agonized, I counted the days of missed training, which turned into weeks, then months.

Today, it’s as if I never tore my meniscus, and besides a lingering cough, the recent cold is all but forgotten. My body has healed, in its own time, in its own way.

I will tell you a story about the mystery that exists between mind and body. Up to March this year – a full 12 months since the tear – I was still taping my right knee before class. My left kick had never been pretty, but it was worse now, because it’s not the kicking leg that matters, but the standing leg, the one that pivots. Tall Coach watches my left kicks on the bag, and how I frown and wince with each one. He asks if my knee hurts. I’ve been asked this before, by other trainers, and always answered no, because I don’t want to seem weak, or like I’m making excuses. This time, I stop and think about it. ‘No,’ I say, ‘There’s no pain, but it feels, I mean I feel… afraid.’ I’m laughing, sheepish. Tall Coach nods, silent for awhile, then tells me: ‘Your knee remembers the trauma.’ On hearing those words, a gap that had existed in me for a year closed, as surely as a key fitting into its lock. I felt the click, not in my knee, but my whole body. I turned back to the bag and executed a series of almost perfect left kicks, more beautifully than I’d been able to do before I got hurt.

It would seem that my knee had mended long ago, but there is so much more to healing than the knitting of flesh and bone.

I’m learning – and it’s hard for me, very hard – that to be sick or injured, isn’t some kind of moral failing. It doesn’t say anything about commitment or ability. It’s simply a thing that happens to bodies: to have a body, is to be ill or incapacitated sometimes. To not be optimal.

Even in the sick time, the body is speaking. The body doesn’t just exist during training, or for training, or for any of the thousand productive things I need it to do. The body’s suffering does not pit it against me. It IS me, in sickness and in health.

There’s a phrase in the Tao Te Ching that I often puzzle over. My understanding of it goes in and out of focus.

I suffer because I’m a body;
if I weren’t a body,
how could I suffer?

In the hardest moments of training, it’s my mind that searches for escape. Anything to occupy it away from the sharp difficulty of the present, be it halfway through a 5km run under the blazing sun, or the last twenty of 200 sit-ups. Usually a song will loop in my head (the chorus to Solange’s Losing You), or a phrase (You must free your ambitious mind, and learn the art of dying. – Bruce Lee). If my mind is elsewhere, maybe this body that’s suffering is not me.

Recently, I’ve been telling my mind not to leave my body to endure the training on its own, to stay with it. What happens in those moments I haven’t found the words to tell. Not well, anyway. It’s a little like opening up more… bandwidth. A rush of information? Of sensation? I am a nut cradled in its shell, existing in inner darkness and in outer light, enduring, being one. I can’t do this for more than a couple of minutes.

If I weren’t a body, how could I suffer?

To train muay thai is to trace new routes, to know what it’s like when my shin hits my partner’s in a drill, or when Young Coach’s foot connects with the side of my head in sparring. It’s also to go over old routes, tracing the deep grooves of where the mind goes in sickness or suffering, as if seeing and knowing them for the first time.

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Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching, An English version by Ursula K. Le Guin, Chapter 13

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Gone to look for my body’ is a line from a song called ‘Weary’ by Solange, on her 2016 masterpiece album A Seat At the Table.

I’ve been wanting to write about training muay thai since last year, but my mind has always come first, and this was something I wanted to just let my body do. Then I realized I was stockpiling notes, feeling the wave of words come, and letting them break into foam, lost. I’ve been gone, standing on the shore, listening to the roar. Now I have its rhythm, and write my way to the return.

Part 1