Reimagining tours and narratives: Challenging the narrative through art

By Mysara Aljaru

Currently pursuing her Masters in Malay Studies at NUS, Mysara has been actively involved in challenging the ways in which the Malay community is portrayed in mainstream media and state-crafted narratives. In the midst of her research and art-making process, she revisits the Malay Heritage Centre and studies the underlying messaging in speeches and articles written about and for the Malay community—in hopes of creating an alternative history tour that would encourage members of the community to take ownership in reclaiming their past and defining their own future.

Photo of Malay Heritage Centre contributed by the author

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Since my last post, I have been doing a lot of readings in an attempt to understand the politics of space and how that affects the narratives that we are exposed to, and how we’ve internalised these narratives in our daily lives. From my readings, I have also been exploring and experimenting possible ways that it can be communicated through art—in particular, through the mediums of performance and film.

My discussion sessions with Kit (our CCP Lead Mentor) has made me realise and question my own narrative and lived experience as a minority woman in this country. Drawing back to my point on the myth of the model minority as I’ve previously mentioned in my earlier blog post, Kit made me realise that sometimes life feels like a rehearsal. This will be a key point that I will be addresing in my project. What are we rehearsing for? After all, William Shakespeare did say: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”. What then, are our entry points, references, and resources as we ‘rehearse’?

I’ve decided to look at narratives that we (as a community) have internalised, and in particular, historical and state narratives.

Community narratives:

By conducting a workshop, I hope to gather narratives from the ground to understand how we view labour, and to use these narratives that I’ve gathered to challenge current discourse in academia which a) might be inaccessible to some, b) represent a poor understanding of an on-the-ground issue. I am also keen to find out if these first-hand narratives have been incorporated and addressed in today’s state policies.

I also did a recce of the Malay Heritage Centre to understand the historical narrative that is showcased at the gallery. It has been a while since I last visited the permanent exhibitions, but this recent trip made me reflect on how the community and people outside of the community view the history of the Malay community—do we romanticise it? Is there a way to appreciate the achievements of the past and yet be critical of policies that have affected the progress of the community? Also, how would such achievements be perceived now? This reignited my interest in Kit’s suggestion to conduct an alternative tour of the Malay Heritage Centre, which I am currently preparing for by working on the script and content.

One other idea that I have been working on is a film that looks at state narratives. I’ve been studying the speeches, articles, and advertisements by statutory boards to understand the kind of messaging targeted at the Malay community. I’ve also been exploring the idea of hearing what the ‘common man’ has to say, so as to challenge the voice of the elites.

The discussions we’ve had at AWARE and Project X also got us thinking about the function of civil society groups in Singapore, and the challenges in pushing for alternative narratives that might differ from the official state narratives. This got me questioning the methods used in mainstream media—how can we better understand the violence behind the narratives presented to us, and how can we challenge these state-prescribed narratives? And most importantly, in contemplating my role in the CCP, how do I bring these concerns across through art? How do I use images to evoke these concerns, or utilise my body and movement while employing music and text/speech to challenge these mainstream narratives? In my process of exploring the idea of rehearsals, I’ve been spending time researching on how art has traditionally been used to challenge dominant narratives.

I call upon you to join me in this journey, and I hope to see you at my upcoming workshops and tour!