Weaving fresh tales at StoryFest

Home-grown artist Zarina Muhammad (foreground) leading members of the press in a ceremonial welcome ritual at the preview of StoryFest on Monday.
Home-grown artist Zarina Muhammad (foreground) leading members of the press in a ceremonial welcome ritual at the preview of StoryFest on Monday.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

This year's annual storytelling festival aims to disrupt and deconstruct the notion of a single narrative

From the complicated life story of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo to an exhibition on effigies and the mythic female, the third edition of annual storytelling festival StoryFest aims to disrupt and deconstruct the notion of a single narrative.

The festival will run at The Arts House from June 21 to 24 with 22 programmes.

These include the Asian premieres of American storyteller David Novak's rendition of the ancient Sumerian epic Gilgamesh, and Reflecting Fridas, in which Brazilian storyteller Ana Maria Lines weaves stories from Kahlo's life with her own.

Lines, 55, has been fascinated by Kahlo's ability to turn adversity into art since she was a child and was shown a picture of a Kahlo painting in class. To create the show, she went to Mexico to visit the places where Kahlo lived and talk to artists and locals about her.

"The process of creating a show inspired by Frida Kahlo helped me to have another understanding about death and how important it is to remember and celebrate our ancestors," she says in an e-mail interview.

The festival's creative producer, Kamini Ramachandran, 50, says its audience has grown from 680 in 2017, when it began, to more than 1,900 last year, of which more than 860 attended ticketed programmes.


  • WHERE: The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane

    WHEN: June 21 to 24, various times

    ADMISSION: Various prices, from storyfest.peatix.com

    INFO: storyfestsg.com

She has observed that, increasingly, audiences include not just parents with children, but also professionals keen on honing their communication skills.

She says: "If somebody can tell you an epic for 90 minutes, these are the same skills you can apply for pitching or marketing.

"I find we are spending a lot of time waiting for other people to dictate to us what we should see, visualise and imagine."

She adds: "I want the types of stories we are telling to allow you to make-believe, to access those parts of your imagination that have not been given time to connect with what is in front of you.

"This is something we were born with, but we've become distracted and disconnected because of certain devices we have."

The festival includes free programme Dis/Connect: Digital Detox, a space in which visitors are asked to put away their mobile phones.

Activities there include the Big Story Tent, in which established and emerging storytellers will hold sessions; and Room To Read, a picture-book library by home-grown publisher Asiapac Books.

Six Singapore storytellers - from theatre practitioners Verena Tay and Grace Kalaiselvi to journalist Akshita Nanda - will present tales related to the Nusantara region (a Javanese term for maritime South-east Asia) at a showcase.

In addition, artist Zarina Muhammad is putting together the festival's first visual-storytelling exhibition, Pharmacopeias For Accredited Agents Of Poisoning.

The title refers to British physician John Gimlette's 1915 text, Malay Poisons And Charm Cures, in which he writes that Malay women are "generally held to be the accredited agents, at any rate, in many cases of poisoning, because naturally the cooking is left almost entirely to them".

The exhibition will include clay effigies and embroidered cloth and "story spell jars" that Zarina, 37, has assembled from ingredients such as spices and expired medication.

She will also be holding a public workshop on making effigies and using them to tell stories.

Zarina says: "I am interested in the demonised and desired body.

"I want to destabilise the voice of the single storyteller - not negate him, but talk back and extend the conversation."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2019, with the headline 'Weaving fresh tales at StoryFest'. Print Edition | Subscribe