All events free and open to the public
The Southeast Asian island city-state of Singapore is known for being an exceptionally multiracial, multilingual, multicultural, and multireligious place, and commentators often say that a Singaporean can look or sound like anything. However, this potentially boundless difference is regimented, simplified, and constrained in various ways. This is most notable through CMIO, a state-backed racial and linguistic model that categorizes the population into Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Other groups. As the name suggests, “Other” occupies a fraught status: it is administratively capacious but isn’t a category of affiliation or identification: a Singaporean might say “I am Chinese/Malay/Indian(-Singaporean),” but they would not say, “I am Other.” What’s more, the official status of “Other” doesn’t exhaust the many forms of otherness, abjection, or alterity that individuals and groups might experience or navigate in Singapore based on their gender identity, sexuality, citizenship, dis/ability, ancestry, linguistic biography, religion, mode of employment, etc., whether self-attributed or imputed by others.
By focusing on “doing being,” this series will explore the situated, embodied performances out of which states of “being” emerge. Participants in the virtual series will ask: what does it mean to be other in global Singapore—whether officially “Other” or other to “Other”? Participants will share reflections from their research, creative and professional practice, activism, and advocacy focused on otherness both official and/or unofficial, both their own and/or others’.
Except for the final roundtable, all of the presentations below will be available asynchronously online between April 21 and May 1, 2023. Register at http://bit.ly/3yD4uU6 to get the URLs and password. You can also indicate any accessibility needs beyond closed-captioning.
If you prefer to watch with others, the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture will also host synchronous viewings in the Community Room at 5733 South University Avenue in Chicago. Dinner will be served during evening events; check the schedule below and please indicate dietary requirements in your synchronous RSVP: http://bit.ly/42ee5y2.
Monday, April 24, 6:00–7:30 pm CST
Tinesh Indrarajah and Jane Zhang | Rojak Romance (2019, dir. Christine Seow)
*Dinner will be served
In this documentary film, a young mixed-race couple, Tinesh Indrarajah (a Malaysian Ceylonese Tamil man) and Jane Zhang (a Chinese American woman) interrogate differing religious backgrounds, expectations on children, and meeting each others’ families, as they speculate on how to exist as a mixed-race couple in multiracial, yet CMIO-centric Singapore, organized around official racial categories of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Other. Through Tinesh and Jane’s personal journey, Rojak Romance examines the history and identity of the Ceylonese Tamil community.
Tinesh Indrarajah has been working as a Higher Education professional for five years, focusing on mental health, university administration, student success, emergency crisis response, and restorative justice practices. He graduated from Yale-NUS College with a B.A. with Honours in History and a Masters in Public Policy from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He is interested in furthering research on the South Indian diaspora in Southeast Asia through the lens of micro-histories. Jane Zhang is pursuing a joint master’s degree in Global Journalism and International Relations at New York University. The child of Chinese immigrants to the U.S., Jane has been interested in the topics of migration and identity formation from a young age. She graduated from Yale-NUS College in 2018 with a B.A. with Honors in Anthropology. Jane has been working in journalism since 2019, when she joined Mothership.sg, Singapore’s leading digital-first news platform. As a journalist, she hopes to produce longform work that explores the intersections of social issues like race, immigration, gender, and class, and to center marginalized voices in order to have a direct impact on policy decisions. In their free time, Jane enjoys rock climbing and figure skating while Tinesh enjoys racquet sports and floorball, and together, they enjoy competing in board games and devouring delicious food.
Tuesday, April 25, 1:30–3:00 pm CST
Kevin Martens Wong | Bunga Sayang Kristang: On Becoming the Last Merlionsman of the Republic of Singapore, and the Lion City’s Secret Big Brown Lucky Gay Non-binary Kristang Star
That title sure has a lot of adjectives, doesn’t it? That’s been my life as Singapore’s greatest, scariest, cutest and best-kept secret since 2016: the gay, gay-married, non-binary, multiple national award-winning Singaporean linguist, archaeoastronomer, speculative fiction writer and teacher leading a world-renowned language and cultural revitalization initiative for a minority community that’s still predominantly Christian; a survivor of suicide, multiple instances of emotional and sexual abuse and systemic and institutional abuse from the state itself; and the first (and likely only) civil servant and teacher in a government institution to ever come out publicly as gay before the November 2022 repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code criminalizing sex between men. In this presentation, I draw on my autobiographical reflections as Singapore’s contemporary human makara and Merlionsman using the Kristang Via Hierosa / hero’s journey to explore what it means to live a life that is beautiful, challenging, defiant, and very, very other in all the right ways.
Kevin Martens Wong is a gay, non-binary Kristang / Portuguese-Eurasian speculative fiction writer, independent scholar, and linguist. He leads Kodrah Kristang, the internationally-recognized grassroots movement to revitalize the critically endangered Kristang language in Singapore, and was the 2017 recipient of both the President’s Volunteer and Philanthropy Award (Individual—Youth) and the Lee Hsien Loong Award for Outstanding All-Round Achievement. His first novel, Altered Straits, was longlisted for the 2015 Epigram Books Fiction Prize, and his work has also appeared in Transect, entitled and the Singapore Light to Night Festival. He currently runs his own freelance coaching and consulting initiative, Merlionsman.
Wednesday, April 26, 6–7:30 pm CST
Sharon Frese, Irfan Kasban, and Ng Yi-Sheng | Ayer Hitam: A Black History of Singapore (2019)
*Dinner will be served
Ayer Hitam is a lecture performance exploring the history and influence of the African diaspora in Singapore. Co-created by Sharon Frese, Ng Yi-Sheng, and Irfan Kasban, it delves into an archive of images and documents relating to slavery, colonialism, jazz, and nationalist struggle, reaffirming the place of Black culture in the island nation’s heritage.
Sharon Frese (she/her) is a British—now also German (makes Brexit easier)—Afro-Caribbean Arts Practitioner with a love for the stage. When not performing, writing, or directing, she travels, plays the kora, and eats far too much world cuisines.
Irfan Kasban is a freelance theatre maker, based in Singapore, who writes, directs, designs, and at times, performs. His unwavering dedication to art is a celebration of the space and time we call life. A former Associate Artistic Director of Singapore’s Teater Ekamatra, Irfan has mentored and directed numerous works for the stage and screen.
Ng Yi-Sheng (he/him) is a multidisciplinary Singaporean writer with a keen interest in forgotten Southeast Asian histories and myths. His books include Lion City and last boy (both winners of the Singapore Literature Prize), A Book of Hims, and Loud Poems for a Very Obliging Audience.
Thursday, April 27, 1:30–3 pm CST
Nurul H. Rashid | Self-Identified Muslim Women in Singapore: From Automation to Articulation
This presentation examines the inherited datasets of Muslim women images reproduced from the daguerreotype camera to the algorithmic automation in the data turn. Using Participatory Action Research, self-identified Muslim women critically unpack these datasets to articulate new intersections and contexts of what it means to do or perform ‘Muslim women’ in Singapore.
Nurul Huda Rashid (she/her) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Cultural Studies in Asia program at the National University of Singapore. Her research explores images of Muslim women through varying modes of reproduction: from the daguerreotype to the data turn.
Friday, April 28, 7–8:30 pm CST
Doing Being Other: A Scholar-Activist Roundtable
Join all series presenters as they engage with one another as well as with synchronous and asynchronous audience questions. Moderated by Josh Babcock, Associate Fellow in the Center for the Study of Communication and Society and Lecturer in the Department of Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity at the University of Chicago.
Doing Being Other is organized by Josh Babcock with faculty support from Alan L. Kolata, Bernard E. and Ellen C. Sunny Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences in the College. The series is sponsored by the University of Chicago’s Committee on Southern Asian Studies, the Department of Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity, and the Anthropology Students Association’s Ethnographic and Documentary Film Series.