As an ageing man nears the end of his life, his son stands by his side with the hope that the identity of his mother will be revealed. It’s an intriguing story, one made all the more compelling by the fact that the man is Chinese and his son, Malay. A new work from process space ponggurl, The Malay Man and His Chinese Father is a study on seeking answers and the emotional journey that comes with finding them. To delve deeper into the piece, we spoke to ponggurl’s Noor Effendy Ibrahim.
How was the idea for The Malay Man and His Chinese Father conceived?
The ideas came from a discussion with close friend and long-time collaborator Elizabeth de Roza about two years ago. She recognised the great sense of tenderness in all my past performance works that are events of transgression in themselves — tenderness that most audiences of my works had missed. My works are actually about love, besides sex and eating. I am a romantic artist, but I have been severely misunderstood as a BDSM sex-crazy artist. I am not. And this makes me sad. Hence, I decided to show my softer side in performance, and began performance research into tenderness in transgression or the transgressive. And what is more transgressive in Singapore than the idea of the Malay Man and the Chinese Man sharing the same stage in certain ways?
What is the significance of race in the performance?
Everything that we understand of race discourses, especially the many levels of tension between that of a Malay man and a Chinese man. But one of the several things that we still avoid speaking aloud in many circles is the tenderness that exists between them — the love and the attraction between the two. At the same time, race is not the only subject of significance here. There is also the issue of the age/generation gap, the gender relationship and the parent-child relationship. It could easily be Malay Man and Indian Father, or Chinese Man and Malay Father, or Indian Man and Malay Father, and so on. But for now, in this very first version of this new series, my investigation begins with a Malay man and a Chinese man.
What were the reactions of people on the street during the pre-production photo shoot?
Seriously, you can see in most of their faces a “WTF?” look, but they try to hide it by acting nonchalant with a seen-that-done-that-boring-try-harder attitude. It’s a very Singaporean defence mechanism to anything totally strange that they come across in public.
What do you want audiences to take from the piece?
I really do not know. I am honestly anxious about this.
Tell us more about ponggurl. Will we see more of Effendy the performing artist, director and playwright with your departure from The Substation?
ponggurl is really just a sound. Nothing more. Sorry to disappoint. Upon my departure from The Substation, I just hope to be able to continue to survive. I live in Singapore.
The Malay Man and His Chinese Father takes place from Jan. 17 to 18 at the Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore. Tickets are available at $22 from Sistic. For more information, visit the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2015 website.