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Looking Beyond The Not Ordinary Works of Ordinary Women9 min read

18 July 2019 6 min read


Looking Beyond The Not Ordinary Works of Ordinary Women9 min read

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Homemakers, political leaders, environmentalists, freedom fighters, students, filmmakers — these are just some of the many roles that women take up in modern society. Yet despite their numerous duties, female-driven narratives and initiatives are not easy to find. 

Presented by TheatreWorks Writers’ Lab and directed by Noorlinah Mohamed, Not Ordinary Work (N.O.W) aims to tear down the stagnancy of women-led media content by putting women on the centrestage. It does not simply feature performances and visual arts but also music, workshops, talks, and a carefully-curated film line-up that explores themes of homelessness, solitude, and adversity. 

The four films that will be screened during this period are Innocents, I Am The Revolution, A Lonely Woman, and Spoor. Directed by Singaporean filmmaker Wong Cheng-Hsi is Innocents, a film that revolves around two lonely and outcasted young kids as they struggle to retain their innocence. Meanwhile, I Am The Revolution, which — in director Benedetta Argentieri’s words — aims to “challenge the mainstream narrative about women in… war-torn areas”, follows three women as they fight for their freedom in the Middle East. The next two films on the list hail from the same filmmaker, Agnieszka Holland, whereby A Lonely Woman looks into the lives of people under the harsh social climate of Poland, while Spoor tackles femininity, ecology, politics, and animal rights all in one film.

(Note: click the links to read our reviews for these films!)

These works, all helmed by women, are complex, intricate, enlightening — and are unique reflections of the way their creators think and interact with the rest of the world. 

In order to learn more about their motivations behind their creations, we interviewed Benedetta Argentieri, director of I Am The Revolution, as well as Noolinah Mohamed, director of N.O.W and established actress and arts educator in her own right. This is what they have to say about their works:

Benedetta Argentieri:

Film still from I Am The Revolution

What do you hope that public viewers — not just women — can take away from this film about three empowering female leaders in the Middle East?

The objective for making this film was to challenge the mainstream narrative about women in the Middle East, and especially in war-torn areas. Most of the times they are portrayed as victims, with no power or strength. This is not the whole reality. So I hope public viewers would learn from the film that there are women fighting back. There are women leaders, and that there are many of them who are building a community and empowering others. 

What are your aims as a female filmmaker who deals with subject matter about women?

My aims are to portray women as they are: to depict the complexity of characters and not just a mono-dimensional person. A woman is not just bad or good but is full of nuances. I think it is important to use our abilities and understanding of the women’s world to have a better understanding of what it means to be a woman in the current world. 

Noorlinah Mohamed:

Noorlinah Mohamed on the opening night of N.O.W

How did the idea for N.O.W come about?

Previously I had run The O.P.E.N., the pre-festival of ideas of Singapore International Festival of Arts, under the Festival Director Ong Keng Sen. I had the privilege of working with women artists from around the world and most of them were inspiring not just for the artistic work they do, but also for the connection their art work has with society at large. That makes their artistic and creative endeavour more compelling for me. Art for art’s sake is wonderful in their own right. But personally, I am drawn to a larger perspective, how art can generate impact socially, and create awareness around issues and develop a sense of agentive participation. Hence N.O.W. — not ordinary work — is inspired very much by the strong, vocal and far-sighted women who do the work they do to make a difference in the world.

What is the aim for this project, both for the participants/contributors as well as the public?

Get them to come, watch, think, feel, reflect and get the conversation going. To highlight the less obvious. Take for instance the two exhibitions we present over the three weeks – Apotropaic Texts and Power of Letters. These two exhibitions spotlight the power of language in two dramatically opposing elements. One looks at magic and protective charms while the other at the art of letter writing. But both are central to how women utilise these platforms to do good and serve the community. 

Exhibition still from Apotropaic Texts

And the films — each of these films display not just the artistic vision and craft of each of the female filmmakers, but also their social consciousness. I Am The Revolution for instance dives deep into the heart of perilous Middle East. From the ashes these courageous women brave death threats and challenges to help other women. We live in Singapore — seemingly complacent with the peace and prosperity around us — we hardly worry about the next calamity. These films connect us with the larger question on humanity and hopefully awaken within us a desire to want to know more, and go beyond what we see, hear and do in Singapore.

What were some challenges in organising this public project? Why the specific spotlight on women of the arts/media industry?

As with any project, there are challenges from funding to manpower. But what is wonderful with doing N.O.W is the passion, drive and energy of the team — all women. This is a rare feat, to have an entire team of women managing the project and each committed to see this project through. 

Is there a running theme for each week? If so, how does it contribute to the project as a whole?

I avoid working with a theme in mind. I avoid that because my interest is in the artist and what she wants to do. You know, interestingly, when the artists return with their proposals, I find there is a connection to history, or things in the past. Most are re-examining a time, place or context and finding ways to reclaim the traces of these elements. Chen-Hsi in her film Innocents tells a story of two children. But the cinematography tells the visual story of Singapore in the 80s. Much of what is captured in Innocents cannot be found in Singapore now. And in Three Fat Virgins Unassembled, we revisit an iconic play from the 90s. In re-assembling it for the 21st Century, the director and cast evaluate the changes women experience today. 

Performance still from Three Fat Virgins Unassembled

The film screenings feature “…A mix of female directors exploring themes of homelessness, solitude and adversity.” Why these themes, specifically? How do these differ from the selection of performances and exhibitions?

The films were selected based on the diversity of film genre and approach to making films. Their filmmaker eyes offer perspectives that connect very much with some of the issues embedded in the other projects found in N.O.W. Imagine each programme as one side or angle to a crystal. Each angle reflects the light differently, but together they form a composite. 

There is an interesting mix of narratives, thriller and documentary. What contributes to decision making when it came to selecting films/genres? How do the themes of N.O.W. align with the films that were curated? 

Diversity is crucial to the 3-week event. Much of what we strive to do is present diverse perspectives that reveal women as multi-faceted, complex and capable of taking on a variety of topics.

In the last five years we see the rise of women power — from the cinema to politics. It is an era where women are celebrating their capabilities as well as making a difference by supporting other women, giving them support, helping each other rise. And what the N.O.W team is doing is just that. Working with both established artists and less established artists; independent artists who need platforms like N.O.W to showcase their work; and a network of women artists to spar with, to connect and exchange ideas. Each of these artists have things to say, different things to say, and the time is right for a platform like N.O.W to simply present these diverse voices, together.

About N.O.W

N.O.W. is a three-week public project. From 2019-2021, Noorlinah Mohamed, established actress and arts educator, is appointed N.O.W.’s Artistic Director. For the next three years, she focuses on celebrating women creators, thinkers, and change-makers, and their approach to making a difference. Led by women and supported by women production, technical and administrative teams, N.O.W. makes visible the multifaceted and capable women, their voices and their not ordinary work. From performance to film, music to visual arts, workshops to talks, N.O.W. spotlights her process, her thoughts and her creation. Experimental, deliciously weird, and yes, fun, these works explore the conversations women creators and thinkers have with the world – and each other.

N.O.W runs from 10 – 28 July 2019. You can learn more about the program here.

somehow both a dreamer and a realist at once; more articulate in the written word
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