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Review on JIWANG by P7:1SMA

Updated: May 16, 2023

A Nuance Lost In Translation?



Online presentation (via Eko)

1 September 2020

JIWANG can be viewed as a social commentary on a segment of the Malay community in Singapore; one that taps into nostalgia, emotions and vulnerability via listening to or singing Malay rock ballads. How would the concept and stories of ‘jiwang’ be translated outside the Malay language?

JIWANG is a karaoke dance film about enjoying excessive emotions and a desire to escape. The term ‘jiwang’ is a Malay slang referring to excessive romantic, anguish and heart-breaking love. The burst of ‘jiwang’ songs (slow rock music) in 1980s – 1990s accompanied the growth of the term, describing an individual’s emotional relationship and releases with music, which can also be a social marker (i.e. a ‘jiwang’ person). The work was presented online via the video-branching program Eko from 22 August - 27 September 2020.

It featured P7:1SMA’s Artistic Director Norhaizad Adam (who was the conceptualiser for the work) together with P7:1SMA associates and collaborators Kow Xiao Jun, Sharul Mohd and Syimah Sabtu. The viewer was able to go on a personalised journey as they could select the sequence of the work at certain junctures. Being a digital work, the viewer was able to “get up close and personal” to the performers as they performed to Malay rock ballads. The audience was invited to blast the music from their viewing device, transform their space into a karaoke room / booth and may also wish to dress up, use a microphone, and have snacks and drinks while they sing-along to the lyrics at the bottom of the screen.

However, seeing that the songs and lyrics are in Malay; is the work exclusive to a specific demographic who are able to grasp and best appreciate the ideas? Would the work be less significant or meaningful to those outside that supposed target group?

The performers portrayed nuanced forms of sadness when they stepped inside the “boundary” within the video; longing, nostalgia, despair, heartbreak, and suppression, just to name a few. Gestures and scenes reminiscent of old Malay dramas and karaoke music videos may appear cheesy (or cringey) upon initial viewing, yet they succeeded in triggering deep-seated emotions and memories to resurface. The songs used could have been tied to specific moments in our lives (of hardship, suffering, despair) and to be confronted with them through the unassuming karaoke dance film could have been a therapy session (akin to belting out the lyrics in the karaoke rooms amongst intimate company) that one may have subconsciously needed.

As one self-indulges in their personal experiences and embraces nostalgia, subtle shifts in perspectives might go unnoticed, as reflected in the karaoke lyrics slowly transforming from Malay to roughly-translated English. Some crucial essences and fluctuations (both in language and personal journeys) might have been lost to time without one realising, and the ability to relive those moments is a privilege that some desire. Those who are aware of that passage will have a deeper connection to their personal stories, as they simultaneously immerse themselves in the creation of new ones.

The work can also serve as a commentary on the nuances that are often overlooked in translation, while also highlighting the subjectivity of experiences and endless possible perspectives from the same reference point. Translations in language can be both literal and metaphorical, and multiple layers can be dissected regardless of prior contextual knowledge. There is always something to celebrate once it is discovered and acknowledged. However, the contention between intention and interpretation, between giving in and taking over, and between minority and dominant power should be considered at the same time; is it happening voluntarily / inevitably?

Even though emotions and gestures transcend race and language, is there a nuanced emotion that is being portrayed, one that is collectively referenced and understood by a select group who experienced a unique set of circumstances? To be able to empathise from the outside can be considered impossible, yet the stories of struggle and sadness should be put in the light a lot more. To reach out of the circle is a necessary ordeal in order to be heard, despite the challenge of translating, and the work is a catalyst for doing so.

The openness and subjectivity of ‘jiwang’ and its timelessness allows the past to exist in the present, and the secret-keepers of the past have a language they collectively share. JIWANG could be a gateway into a fraternity that has existed since the 1980s. Presenting it in the form of a karaoke dance film allows the work to both identify and provoke a potential social identity while entertaining its audience. The illusion of choice towards an inevitable ending as a question to where ‘jiwang’ has been, and whether its path is or has been pre-determined. The subtle slipping of the lyrics as a highlight to what is happening under our noses.

How will it be to ‘jiwang’ in the years to come?

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