Arts & Culture

Dana Lam is Working from a Place of Honesty

Art & Life are one and the same.
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She may have played many roles so far in her life, but Dana Lam always seems to gravitate back to being an art maker - be it in the forms of words or paint. But what happens when a hiatus is taken and can one just ease right back into the process of making as if nothing has changed?

Together with Checkpoint Theatre in collaboration with TheatreWorks, Dana Lam will be performing in her own piece of work titled Still Life together with actress Jean Ng. A deeply personal work, it looks at how life and art are weaved together through her journey from the 1950s to the present. This is about choice, tensions and a coming to terms with all that has led the artist to this present moment.

Two poignant questions are asked in this play's synopsis is:  How do we see what we see? And how do we look at a life that’s never still in order to make meaning?

Dana dives into her own life experiences to bring Still Life into fruition.

Share with us your love for writing and painting. How did it start and have they led you to any discoveries about yourself?

I think it began with my very first introduction to the alphabet! From trying to trace the letters in exercise books and decorating them after. We didn’t all know the alphabet at the time we entered primary school. So it was a beautiful, new, exciting experience.

I remember loving it all – the smell of the books, the luna colour pencils, the letters and the pictures.

You have always enjoyed writing in all its different forms. How has the process of writing a play been and how is it different from other forms for you?

A play is an entirely different animal from what I’m used to. There is so much material, so many paths to go down. Reaching out to Claire and Huzir, to Checkpoint Theatre, was a call for help. I realised I needed to work in a way that would give my writing dynamism. And, I was right! Readying my text for performance helped me to narrow down the field and make cuts I may not have made on my own. Working with Claire on the studio floor was especially helpful in finding a different, more robust voice and approach to writing.

Inspired by your own life, did you face any difficulty in working out the balance between personal and artistic vision?

I try to work from a place of honesty. Getting there is both the goal and the journey of the work. I was asked recently if I found it was weird playing myself in Still Life. The answer is No.

Because I’m not playing myself. I am myself.

I was asked if I felt exposed. The answer is also No. That answer surprised me. It set me thinking, “How can that be? I am telling total strangers some of my deepest thoughts and anxieties.” I realised, then, it is quite possible to separate the writer/creator from the person whose life is the writer’s material. This is true of my experience creating Still Life. I don’t know if it is possible with every work.

In your opinion, do you think an artist can make art without vulnerability?

Everyone has vulnerabilities so it would be hard to find work made by someone without vulnerability. I like works that come from a place of honesty. So I try to work from there.          

“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life" - Oscar Wilde. What’s your take on this quote?

It’s two sides of a coin. Art and Life are one and the same. How you spin it is how it lands, heads or tails.

Photos Courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Photo credit: Mark Teo

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