Protestant Colonialist Legacies

It would be quite evident, even to anyone ignorant of Vietnam’s history, that the country had once been under French colonial rule.

In District 1, the boulevards lined with tall trees at regular intervals, all radiating from a roundabout, indicated an infrastructural mind of the Parisian mould.

park near Benh Than Market, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)Co-opted by communism, the parks with their wide promenades became communal spaces for group activities.

Just before my trip, WT and I were discussing the differing consequences of British and French colonial rule. Common wisdom had it that countries under British colonial rule fared better than ones under French rule, she’d said.

This paper, Comparing British and French Colonial Legacies: A Discontinuity Analysis of Cameroon found that households [in Cameroon] on the British side have higher levels of wealth and are more likely to have access to improved sources of water (a locally provided public good)[than households in post-French Cameroon].

The authors, Alexander Lee and Kenneth A. Schultz, hypothesized that the British advantage was a combination of “hard legacies” (lack of forced labor, more autonomous local institutions) and “soft legacies” (common law, English culture, Protestantism).

Whereas Césaire described French colonialism, in his Discourse on Colonialism (Discours sur le Colonialisme),  as a relationship based on “forced labor, intimidation, pressure, the police, taxation, theft, rape, compulsory crops, contempt, mistrust, arrogance, self-complacency, swinishness, brainless elites, degraded masses.”

playing the flute in a park near Benh Than Market. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Christianity Today’s The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries was careful to avoid any triumphalist crowing, but noted:

Few [missionaries] were in any systemic way social reformers,” says Joel Carpenter, director of the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin College. “I think they were first and foremost people who loved other people. They [cared] about other people, saw that they’d been wronged, and [wanted] to make it right.

While missionaries came to colonial reform through the backdoor, mass literacy and mass education were more deliberate projects—the consequence of a Protestant vision that knocked down old hierarchies in the name of “the priesthood of all believers.” If all souls were equal before God, everyone would need to access the Bible in their own language. They would also need to know how to read.

“They focused on teaching people to read,” says Dana Robert, director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University. “That sounds really basic, but if you look worldwide at poverty, literacy is the main thing that helps you rise out of poverty. Unless you have broad-based literacy, you can’t have democratic movements.”

And so the old issue that troubles many a thoughtful missionary:

  1. what saves people, ultimately, is the gospel;
  2. pure social action must not be the goal of the church. A social gospel is concerned with attempting to alleviate suffering only in this world – a myopic mission. This world will soon pass away, and all who have not trusted in Christ, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, will face God’s wrath;
  3. yet how can any Christian claim to love another person but share only the gospel with them, not tending to their poverty or sickness or the injustice of their imprisonment?
  4. but surely resources (time, energy, money) are limited, so it would be better to focus on the gospel and their eternal salvation than the here-and-now;
  5. still, who will listen to the gospel being thrust in their face, when a missionary has not shown himself/herself to be a friend in need (…is a friend indeed)?


Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)Western imperialist graffiti

Art Day Out (March 2016), Gillman Barracks Singapore (Part 1)

Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

ShanghART Gallery (9 Lock Road, facebook): Xue Song 薛松 – The Mountain Echoes:

The ShanghART Gallery was, by default, almost everyone’s first stop at Gillman Barrack’s Art Day Out (March 2016 edition). We didn’t know anything about Xue Song being “one of the most influential and representative artists of Chinese Contemporary Art, and China’s pioneer “Pop Art” artists” at that point, but had great fun scrutinising the cutouts and figuring how they fit into the whole artpiece.

This made me think, first of the complexity of history and how short-sighted we are in thinking that we can exhaustively ascribe causes to any event in human history, and second, of the complexity of the Bible so that while it is simple enough for any literate person to read, there are depths to it unknown elsewhere in the corpus of human writing.

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery.  Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery.  Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery.  Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Up the stairs…
Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

in the Pearl Lam Galleries (facebook)Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

there were beanbags on the floor to sink into and watch Yinka Shonibare‘s Odile and Odette.
Yinka Shonibare's "Odile and Odette".  Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore
In Swan Lake, the same dancer portrays both Odile and Odette, the characters being distinguished by her black or white costumes. In Shonibare’s version, Odile and Odette are portrayed by one black and one white ballerina, set against each other across a gilt frame. Mirror images, their identities are ambiguous.

I liked that this wasn’t another post-colonial rant about racial victimisation (only to be undone by Chris Brown at the 2016 Academy Awards) but that even racial boundaries aren’t quite clear-cut: classical ballet and contemporary art; “authentically African” Dutch wax cloth tutus, etc.

Thence to ARDNT Fine Art (facebook), where Heinz Mack was being exhibited, and art books were on sale:

ARDNT Fine Art. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

ARDNT Fine Art - Heinz Mack. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

ARDNT Fine Art - Heinz Mack. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

ARDNT Fine Art - Heinz Mack. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

to be continued… "I'm Following You" grafitti. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

"Art is not always high" grafitti. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

The Orange Playground by The Necessary Stage and Story-telling

The Orange Playground, The Black Box, The Necessary StageRather enjoyed the evening at the Black Box dungeon of the Marine Parade Community Centre watching some works-in-progress from The Necessary Stage‘s The Orange Playground. TOP, says the publicity material is “an incubation programme where artists can freely experiment using The Necessary Stage’s unique devising methodology”. Four TOP Labs each year provide “a space for free, ad-hoc collaborative “jamming” and play between The Necessary Stage and other artists working in different genres”.

The Orange Playground, The Black Box, The Necessary Stage

Not sure how similar TNS’ current methodology is to this report:

Activity 1: Find a spot in the room, walk to the spot with eyes close. Arms up to protect yourself from banging onto each other.

Activity 2: A and B. A do a sound that B can identify. B close eyes with arms up. A has to lead B with their sounds. B has to identify and follow.

Acitivy 3: A and B. Two straight lines. Do a mirror image of A’s pose. 10 secs. B cannot try the pose. Then After 10 secs, B do the action. Layer: Twos, and Fours

Activity 4: One straight line. Hands on each other shoulders. Specs out. Using your hands, feel the person’s facial features in front of you. In one straight line. The first person leads the line. Eyes closed. Break free. Now, find back the person of that is standing in front of you.

Activity 5: Card games – Using no. 1 – 10. Choose a card. 1 represents the least. 10 represent the best. Without seeing your card, put it on your forehead so that others can see. Base on the no., treat the person according to that. Then, on the scale, arrange yourself what u think ur no. is.

Activity 6: With scenarios. Take a card and put on forehead. Two volunteers. Taxi and Doctor scenes. Base on how the other party treats you, find out the no. on your head.

Activity 7: SPICE. Self-development on characters and personality. Get to know their individual personality better. Builds their character. By impersonating or creating characters, they explore the different characters and may even find their ‘self’. Builds their improvisational skills. Aspects of individual: S – Spiritual P – Physical I – Intellect C – Cultural E – Emotional

Ethel Yap of Lab 4 did talk a little about card exercises and how character-development was helped by values being assigned to different aspects of the worldview of each character, for example, one character might be a 10 for patriotism.

The Orange Playground, The Black Box, The Necessary Stage

How did they decide on the themes for Lab 4? Oh, Haresh Sharma said, I just made them up – censorship, education, and revolution.

Devised theatre, in this incarnation, is interesting. I’d always assumed that in any sort of work of art, authorial intent was the impetus for any attempt to convey that message.

I suppose just like models of instructional design, theatre-making methodology is dependent on worldview. The methodology of collaboration, says Alvin Tan in his Masters of Philosophy thesis, is based on democratic principles, a major tenet being respect of individual rights.

But I wonder if this erroneously conflates equality of rights with equal function. In a democracy, each citizen has the right to vote, but they do not all perform the same job, nor does this preclude any sort of hierarchy. But Alvin’s view seems to be that any imposition of vision by the playwright performing his traditional function, would be hegemonic – a bad word in these (post-)post-modern and post-colonial times.

Regardless of the validity of such presuppositions, my first thought as a potential member of the paying audience was, would I want to fork out good money from a limited budget to see the result of some people’s masak-masak? I don’t think this value-for-money consideration is uniquely Singaporean.

This is not to say, though, that I am unexcited by the prospect of this sort of collaborative effort. It sounds really fun, and part of any creative process, whether officially or not, includes experimenting and jamming. And a good part of the fun would be the uncertainty of its result. But unless the play (pardon the pun) comes together as a fresh coherent whole (by this I do not mean in necessarily a traditional linear plotline etc. sense), watching the process (or even better, participating in the process) would be more fun than watching the result. Because we all know the usual conclusions of committees – as architectural wisdom goes, the designs that win building competitions are always the second best ones, because committees work on compromise.

The Orange Playground, The Black Box, The Necessary Stage

Now many of Alvin/Haresh’s collaborative plays are excellent. Would love to have been a fly on the wall to see how their jamming sessions worked, the interaction between the different parties, how the plot evolved, and whether Alvin or Haresh had veto rights. However, would anyone else have the self-discipline and editorial ability of Alvin Tan and Haresh Sharma be able to do the same? I would love it if many others did, or if they found their own method of theatre-making.

Akan datang? Edit:

Just remembered Emma Coats’s 22 Rules of Story Basics (from Pixar). Sticking it here for reference:

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Perhaps all the stories in the world that have been told, are being told, and will ever be told, follow a limited number of plotlines? See Kurt Vonnegut’s Shapes of Stories:

I particularly like Maya Eilam’s infographic presenting more of Kurt Vonnegut’s theories about archetypal stories.

Then there’s the usual dramatic structure, aka Freytag’s Pyramid.

Aerogramme Studio has a little collection of writing tips, but these assume a single author rather than a committee.