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Taboos in Southeast Asian Playwriting

Panel Discussion

Date : 18 Oct 2019

Time : 12.30 - 14.00

Where : BACC, Room 401

Duration : 1h 30min

Representing : Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia



Ridhwan Saidi (Malaysia)

Muhammad Abe (Indonesia)

Jaa Panthachat (Thailand)

Curator/Moderator: Alfian Sa’at

In Southeast Asia, various nation-states have enacted laws that define the limits of speech, often on the basis of ‘public interest’ or ‘national security’. And yet some playwrights have found ways to address some of the more contentious issues in their respective countries. While some have utilised the form of allegory or satire, others have explored non-textual approaches. Theatre-makers from the region will discuss how they negotiate social, cultural and political taboos in playwriting. How effective is metaphor in expressing a political reality? How viable is it to create an ‘underground scene’ as a response to surveillance? And when speech is outlawed, can the body find other ways to ‘speak’?

Muhammad Abe will discuss how artists negotiate with censorship in the New Order era in contrast to the post-Reformasi era after 1998 in Indonesia. Alfian Sa’at will look at artists’ strategies in circumventing state censorship in Singapore, like finding other ‘incarnations’ to a work. Jaa Panthachat will explore how metaphor is used to discuss sensitive socio-political issues in Thailand. And Ridhwan Saidi will present on case studies of macro and micro censorship in Malaysia from 1990’s to the present.

This session will be followed by a launch of two collections of plays from the region, with English translations: Ridhwan Saidi’s Teater Modular (Malaysia) and Alfian Sa’at’s Collected Plays Three (Singapore).


About the speakers

Ridhwan Saidi is a Malaysian novelist, playwright and theatre-maker. He co-founded indie publishing house, Moka Mocha Ink ( which focuses on contemporary Malay fiction and drama. He is also part of the LiteraCity research team, a literary mapping project of Kuala Lumpur. Ridhwan was selected for a residency programme at the ASEAN Literary Festival 2016 and was invited to the Makassar International Writers Festival 2017 and George Town Literary Festival 2018.

Ridhwan’s works deals with dreams, memory and mystery. His novels include Cekik (2011), an oedipal journey of a young Malay boy named Syed Warith, Amerika (2011), a psychedelic tour of Kuala Lumpur, Mautopia (2012), a dystopian adventure in an island ruled by life size ants disguised as domestic guardians, Stereo Genmai (2012) a writer’s quest in search of his lost character, Babyrina (2014), a murder mystery linking Malaysian urban myth with a real life porn star, and Brazil (2015), a semi-diary/reportage of Rio de Janeiro and the FIFA World Cup 2014. He also translated David Cronenberg’s novel Consumed (2014) into Malay. His series of short plays Teater Modular, consisting of 13 offbeat playlets, was published in 2019.

Muhammad Ba’asyin

(Muhammad Abe) was born in Central Java, Indonesia. He is an actor, writer, and researcher. After completing his Master’s degree in Theatre Studies from Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Muhammad had been working as translator, researcher, and facilitator for theatre, dance, and the visual arts.

Muhammad Abe is currently, the director of the Indonesian Dramatic Reading Festival, an annual platform which showcases Indonesian and international plays which have been translated into Bahasa Indonesia. He was also one of the curators and organisers of the Asian Playwrights Meeting in 2019, a platform for playwrights from Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore consisting of dramatised readings, forum panels and discussions.

Jarunun (Jaa) Phantachat

is Co-Artistic Director and Founder of B-Floor Theatre; a socially engaged and movement-based theatre group in Bangkok. Some of the shows she has directed include Taste of Curry, Shatter Room No. 0 and Displacement.

An awardee of the Silpathorn Award in 2014 for outstanding contribution to the arts, her works often involve game structures and investigate the role and agency of the audience. In 2009, she started creating shows where audiences were nudged out of their passive spectatorship to assume roles as writers and players. Most of these works attempted to give authority and power back to audience. In 2016, she won Best Direction of a Play/Performance/Musical for her experimental performance Test of Endurance. The show gave audience the agency to decide the price of their ticket fee and even the duration of the performance.

In 2017, she co-founded Collective Thai Scripts, a group that compiles Thai contemporary scripts, translates them to the English language and publishes. Their first collection is Micro Politics: Individuals' responses to politics through 4 contemporary Thai performance scripts, which was released in 2019.

She is also co-founder of Take Off, a performing arts fund that provides funding for productions, run by artists and for artists.  

Alfian Sa’at

is the Resident Playwright of Wild Rice. He has been nominated 11 times for Best Original Script at the Life! Theatre Awards, eventually winning in 2005 for Landmarks, in 2010 for Nadirah, in 2013 for Kakak Kau Punya Laki (Your Sister's Husband) and in 2016 for Hotel (with Marcia Vanderstraaten). In 2011, Alfian was awarded the Boh-Cameronian Award in Malaysia for Best Book and Lyrics for the musical The Secret Life of Nora. In 2013, he won the Boh-Cameronian Award for Best Original Script for the play Parah.

In 2001, Alfian won the Golden Point Award for Poetry as well as the National Arts Council Young Artist Award for Literature. He has also been nominated for the Singapore Literature Prize three times, for Corridor (1999, Commendation Prize), A History of Amnesia (2004) and his Malay to English translation of the novel The Widower (2016).



Ridhwan Saidi (มาเลเซีย)

Muhammad Abe (อินโดนีเซีย)

จารุนันท์ พันธชาติ (ไทย)

Curator/Moderator: Alfian Sa’at (สิงคโปร์)

พูดคุยกับกลุ่มนักเขียนจากภูมิภาคเอเชียตะวันออกเฉียงใต้ (SEA) ที่ต้องสร้างงานภายใต้สังคมที่มีการจำกัดเสรีภาพทางการแสดงออก เจาะลึกถึงประเด็น taboo หรือสิ่งต้องห้ามที่แตะต้องหรือพูดถึงไม่ได้ ทั้งในเชิงสังคม การเมือง และวัฒนธรรม ฟังศิลปินแลกเปลี่ยนวิธีการจัดการ การหาทางหนีทีไล่ เพื่อรับมือกับปัญหา และสร้างสรรค์งาน ที่พูดถึง taboo เหล่านี้ได้


Venue Information

Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC)

Opposite MBK and Siam Discovery, Rama I Rd.

Nearest station:

BTS National Stadium, Exit 3


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