Arts & Culture

Dana Lam is Working from a Place of Honesty

Art & Life are one and the same.

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Dana Lam has played many roles in her life, but she always seems to gravitate back to being an art maker — be it in the form of words or paint. But what happens when a hiatus is taken? Can one just ease right back into the process of making as if nothing has changed?

Together with Checkpoint Theatre and in collaboration with TheatreWorks, Dana Lam will be performing in her own piece of work titled Still Life, alongside actress Jean Ng. A deeply personal work, Still Life looks at how life and art are weaved together through Dana’s 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 the present moment.

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

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

Tell us more about your love for writing and painting. How did it start and how has it led you to self-discovery?

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

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 recently asked if I found it weird to play 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 got 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 or 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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