Previous stay at IIAS: Aug-Nov 2013

IIAS fellowship 2018: Asian Self-representation at World’s Fairs
This project, which extends from my prior work on the politics of culture in Singapore and community-based performance in the Philippines (Places for Happiness: Community, Self and Performance in the Philippines, University of Hawaii Press, 2017), will enable me to complete the manuscript for Asian Self-Representation at World’s Fairs, under contract with Amsterdam University Press.

International expositions, or “World’s Fairs,” remain the largest and most important stage on which millions of humans routinely gather to directly experience, express, and respond to cultural difference. While Asian representation at the hands of colonizing powers and unscrupulous Western impresarios at international expositions has been widely documented, apart from scholarship by Japan scholars, there has been little correspondingly engaged analysis of contemporary Asian self-representation at these events.

This book turns the lens around by focusing on expressions of Asian agency at selected international expositions in the West over the last century, mapping out the shift from the “exhibitionary order” that characterized earlier expositions to a new “performative order,” one increasingly preoccupied with the generation of affect. My research is concerned with the imaginative worlds called into being within and around the Asian country pavilions at these events, where the performative has become the dominant mode for communicating directly with and imprinting on the bodies of spectator/participants.


IIAS fellowship 12 August - 30 November 2013
Research topic: Community-Based Performance in the Philippines

I am currently working toward completing the first draft of my book, Emplacing Happiness: Community, the Self and Performance in the Philippines. This book brings together a decade of experience and research into community-based performance in the Philippines, focusing on works that are created and presented outside the context of established theatre venues and that define, reinforce, and celebrate the shared belief systems of a specific community. Included are large-scale, festival-based performance work and religious/civic celebrations, religious theatre associated with Holy Week (senakulo, or enactments of the Passion), transgendered performance, national and regional dance drama competitions extending from the tradition of folk-inflected "street dance," and dance in prison. The scale of community-based performance in terms of duration, time commitment, and productive labor places these practices in a central position in the lives of Filipinos and positions the Philippines as one of the world's most significant and undervalued performance-centered cultures. 

The links between “fun,” performance, and human happiness in a Filipino context has been of increasing concern to me as my own subject position as a researcher into community-based performance in the Philippines has shifted from participant-observer, to that of a participant who is compelled to return to certain events year after year.  Thus I have come to increasingly consider the ways in which both I and other participants are “emplaced” phenomenologically in the specific performance environments at these events and how the specifics of this emplacement elicits a strong internal pull on the body. 

In the context of a range of large-scale, civic performance events in the Philippines, both secular and religious in nature, this inquiry seeks to answer the question: Why, when Filipinos are among the poorest people in Southeast Asia, do they record high levels of happiness in a range of international matrices?  Secondarily, one can also ask: “What rewards are so great as to make the participants in these events give up weeks or even months of productive labour and place this activity as the most important or central ones in their lives every year?” These questions can be answered by considering how the needs of the individual for happiness are met through involvement in performance practices that link them to a community and that in turn define both the individual and community. The ways in which the socially and culturally-imbedded performance practices I examine are distinctively local in expression, and as a collectivity, distinctively Filipino is equally important. 

Further, I seek to identify the frames that shape and contain the individual, that locate them in time, place, and in the specifics of a local culture and local imaginary, while inquiring as to what defines and activates the collective and in turn how that which is local finds its expressive home by tapping into a regional, national, or transnational imaginary. My aim is to create a framework that moves through cultural coordinates that variously combine and interweave the local, national, transnational, and the transcultural. This framework will set out “places” for happiness that are not merely physical and cultural locations but are also resident inside the human organism.