Bringing lesser-heard stories of trauma and abuse

Minority literature in Singapore still has a long way to go. It took some big steps last year with the island’s inaugural minority voices literary festival, Other Tongues; and hopefully will be progressing further with the arrival of a new performance this month.

It’s important to first distinguish minority literature from misconceived notions of the genre. Rather than simply being texts in a different language, minor literature refers to work created by a minority using the majority language. Taking that cue is theatre-maker Grace Kalaiselvi, with a self-written and directed premiere of a six-part series in association with The Arts House.

Goddesses of Words is a six-part play series exploring the poems of Indian female poets who write in English. Taking place over a brief Mar 21-24, the production spotlights Indian independence activist and poet Sarojini Naidu, also affectionately known as the ‘Nightingale of India’. While Naidu’s influence was vast, just 10 of her poems were selected for this, focusing specifically on the nuances of the struggles women face when dealing with sexual assault and harassment. To these the creative team created a brand new theatrical work with trauma at its centre, exploring the relationship between poetry and theatre. What you can expect onstage is a powerful interweaving of text recitation, spoken word, voice play and soundscape design.


Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai in rehearsal

And it’s not just the Nightingale’s texts taking centre stage. The performance will feature the words of contemporary Indian female poets like Sarojini Naidu and Kamala Surayya, as well as our own homegrown talents Pooja Nansi and Deborah Emmanuel. Performing the actual show are local Indian actresses Mumtaz Maricar, Pramila Krishnasamy, and newly minted theatre darling Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai. The trio will play various characters that have all suffered forms of sexual abuse, and who must continue to live with the trauma of their experiences.

So rarely do we make time or space for the stories and lived experiences of other communities. A night at The Arts House doesn’t seem like too much to give.


Goddesses of Words runs from Mar 21-24 at Playden, The Arts House. Tickets and more information available here.