Documentarian / Embedded Critique as a Practice by Syarifuddin Sahari

Updated: Feb 27

After the last show, I had a conversation (along with Haizad, Desmond and Hasyimah occasionally popping in) with Corrie Tan, the lead journalist from Arts Equator, about my role as a documentarian during District 18. I had based the Journal off her writing on the Southernmost Festival in 2018, which at that time she did not expect to lead to something bigger; a potential practice with its own methodology. She shared that she had been consistently reading the journal entries as they went up on P7:1SMA’s blog and wanted to discuss about its possibilities and what it can contribute as a role.


One of the main topics we discussed about was the perspective. To what extent are we “allowed” to be part of the creative process? During Southernmost, she got “pulled in” by the collaborators and were asked her opinion/suggestions then and there. For District 18, I ensured to keep a distance so as not to influence the creative decisions and to put it in writing which helped Haizad in obtaining feedback and improve the work as it developed. I shared that I stayed a certain distance away (not even asking the performers how they felt about the process) yet being close enough to take note of the discussions and developments as they went along. I ensured that my opinions, analysis and critical thinking were not influenced by the choreographer and dancers to keep it as open and “fresh” as possible when I type it out. I also included my observations of the surroundings; the atmosphere, the actions and reactions of the people, and the subtle gestures that go unnoticed amongst the crowd.


We also agreed that having someone to jot down the creative process aided in the development of the work as the choreographer may notice something that could be developed further or realise how certain elements would appear to the audience. The importance of neutrality was also apparent; to not let our personal biases get in the way of our judgement and analysis.


In addition, we also wore multiple hats in our respective projects. We journaled down the creative process, gave “reviews” on what had been developed so far which would then enable us to critique the work with a deeper understanding as we were present when the choreographer made the decisions and knew their justifications.


Both of us took up our roles without knowing its potential. She mentioned that she would like to discuss further and hopefully even develop a methodology to it as part of her research. The possibilities are intriguing.




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