“What happens when an artist picks up her paintbrush after a long hiatus?”
“Does the body still remember what has been lived?”
“Or are the senses dulled by time, the joints fused with experience?”
Activist. Artist. Writer. Dana Lam wears many hats but in her recent play, Still Life, Dana creates a human to human connection with her audience as she looks into her life journey as she rediscovers herself through art. Driven by these questions, Dana bares her soul to become vulnerable with complete strangers – not an easy feat, especially after previously being thrust under public scrutiny, but she successfully creates an intimate setting that is a reflection of herself to draw them into her mindscape. She invites the audience to recover and relook at her past from the 1950s to the present, from her struggles and success to the “choices and tensions” that makes life beautiful in all its colours. I, personally, rather enjoyed the reflective nature of the play as it attempts to redefine Dana’s public persona in a more humanistic and three-dimensional manner. Even though I was a mere 12-year-old when the AWARE incident occurred, it was imprinted into my memory but was cast away to the back of my mind. Seeing Dana re-emerge from my hazy past to redefine herself and her experiences was a timely reminder to myself of my own personal growth.
Clearly, Dana has had far more experiences under her belt than I have in my lifetime thus far, so I immediately jumped at the chance to interview her when the opportunity presented itself. She shared her artistic beginnings with me, and the process to engage with her past in an introspective but objective manner. Most importantly, Dana shares her hints of life lessons that the younger generation can take away from this revealing piece of work. Read on to find out more:
Interview with Dana Lam for Still Life
Q1. What inspired you to take up painting and writing? How did it come together for you?
I think it began with my very first introduction to the alphabet! From trying to trace the letters in exercise books and decorating them after. We didn’t all know the alphabet at the time we entered primary school. So it was a beautiful, new, exciting experience. I remember loving it all – the smell of the books, the luna colour pencils, the letters and the pictures.
Q2. How did you come to the decision that a play would be the best way to represent yourself and your story instead of other mediums?
You know what they say about writing being a lonely job? At some point, I felt I needed to interact with someone who understood and appreciated the text. Instinctively, I knew the interaction would give the work the muscularity it needed. Plus, I’ve always wanted to write a vehicle for myself and to experience being in the space. Drawing, painting, writing, performing – they’re really just strategies my brain takes to switch tracks, to jolt myself out of my comfort zone. I had the idea that while the text talks about my mother and my relationship with her, the performance itself should speak about me.
A play is an entirely different animal from what I’m used to. There is so much material, so many paths to go down. Reaching out to Claire and Huzir, to Checkpoint Theatre, was a call for help. I realised I needed to work in a way that would give my writing dynamism. And, I was right! Readying my text for performance helped me to narrow down the field and make cuts I may not have made on my own. Working with Claire on the studio floor was especially helpful in finding a different, more robust voice and approach to writing.
Q3. Did you face any difficulties in being introspective about your life experiences in an objective way? What were they and how did you overcome them?
I try to work from a place of honesty. Getting there is both the goal and the journey of the work. I was asked recently if I found it was weird playing myself in Still Life. The answer is No. Because I’m not playing myself. I am myself. I was asked if I felt exposed. The answer is also No. That answer surprised me. It set me thinking, “How can that be? I am telling total strangers some of my deepest thoughts and anxieties.” I realised, then, it is quite possible to separate the writer/creator from the person whose life is the writer’s material. This is true of my experience creating Still Life. I don’t know if it is possible with every work.
Q4. What do you hope young adults will take away from Still Life after watching the performance?
I hope you will be entertained. And comforted. That you will chill, that you will cut each other (and yourself) some slack. Life is like a canvas. While some decisions will leave a mark / a scar no matter what you do, the thing is to know the picture is always evolving. It is not the still captured by your phone camera! Hahahaha. A painting is built up in layers. Every layer adds to the finished work. So is the lived life.
Still Life runs till 10th March 2019. Tickets are sold out.
Email Jie Che at email@example.com