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  • Writer's picturesyimah sabtu

MANMAN by Syimah Sabtu

Updated: May 12, 2021

Documenting my process of MANMAN through different timeline, iterations and collaborations.

Photo credit: P7:1SMA Ltd

July - November 2019

Showcased on Catalyst Platform by P7:1SMA

First iteration of MANMAN as a work in progress co-choreographed with Jonit On.

My reflection of the work after our first sharing for MANMAN as a work in progress.

In the first stage of MANMAN I,

left the beginning as an open ended for people to make their own assumption or story ;

was she a runaway bride?

had she just returned from the wedding?

is she on her way to get ready for her wedding?

she walks in with a wedding bouquet

she placed it in the vase

she stood in front of the mirror touching and observing her face

she took the red lipstick on the vanity table

with her left hand, she opened the cover

gently, she pressed it against her lips, outlining the curves

staring at herself in the mirror, filling up the stain of her lipsticks on every inch of her lips

firstly slowly, gently and soon after..

is this beauty or?


she got lost in her world of thoughts

she smeared and stained her lipstick all over

she lost control and hits the vase

she transforms into an animal-like behaviour

she marks the flowers that scattered on the floor

territorial, a beast in her own land

stained lips, stained skin

she marks and left her stain

leaving prints and stain


is she a human

is she a woman

is she a man

is she an animal

or is she not?

she blesses the space,

blesses herself

she cleansed the space

cleansed herself

is she a saint or is she a sinner?

she ran

she ran in circles

she ran in diagonals

she stops

she smacks the bouquet of flowers she had gathered earlier against the floor

she smacks until it rips no more

she held it up

to live or to leave

/ love and tenderness in the midst of chaos /

Photo Credit: ROAR works


Second iteration of MANMAN as a work in progress.

Choreographed and performed by Syimah Sabtu.

Multimedia and visuals by Merissa Tang.

April 2020 - January 2021

Showcased on Catalyst Platform by P7:1SMA

This work was incubated and supported by P7:1SMA & Dance Nucleus, Singapore.

[Reflection in progress]

I have decided to share some images of my documentation and thoughts that went into creating this iteration of MANMAN (episode REDDRESS).

I knew i wanted to relook into MANMAN, but i had no vision of performing it yet. All of that changed when i had time to sit, reflect and ask myself why MANMAN existed during Singapore's COVID Circuit Breaker.

2020, January.

I reopened MANMAN past documentation through note takings and videos. I rewrite my thoughts. I applied for Associateship at Dance Nucleus, Singapore with this work this work at the back of my mind.

When i applied for the associateship i knew i wanted to really look into my practice, which was the whole point of it. I also knew i was gonna 'die' in that place because words and text are definitely not my strongest skill but i applied for it anyway because i wanted to learn and even if i failed, i failed trying my best. So i shamelessly applied knowing i am up against many others who can do a better submission than me. hurhur. issssok. 

                There is no shame in learning. 

2020, March.

I was offered Associateship at Dance Nucleus, Singapore and they were interested to support me for my project development of MANMAN. The people at Dance Nucleus has been really nice and helpful to guide me along and explain things to me (i swear schools don't teach you these).


2020, April.

I was alone. I was staying alone albeit with two housemates in the house, I had quite kept to myself in the day, in my small room. Things were never the same then. What used to be me working in studio is now being done in my very minimal space. There was no division of working and resting space. I could not function well. I barely had space to dance in.

I chose to focus on writing, researching, rewatching MANMAN video, rereading my past notes for this work and truly ask myself why? Why did this work exist. During this period, I was also questioning the value of paper in Singapore and, to whom does this body belongs to - state, religion, family or me? Imposing marriage onto single woman and expecting married couples to bear children are an expectation of state, community or religion? What does it mean being a Malay Muslim Woman in today's context? What is an ideal Malay Muslim Woman to the first woman I know? What are her hopes and wishes for me? How different are we yet alike?

I had a lot more questions and i know i have to narrow and pick what would be the most urgent for me. Am i creating awareness or am i creating solution or am i asking for empathy? I also had to ask myself all these questions.

28th April, I shared my first exploration on my IGTV Instagram:

(click title above for video)

2020, May - July.

I succumbed to depression.

I am not ashamed. I celebrated little victories and i allowed myself space and time to be, to grief, to rest. Our minds are really strong. I sometimes underestimated its strength. I spiralled down partly because of the topics i tapped on for this work. However, through this period i learnt to forgive myself even more and embraced my past.

5th May, I shared another exploration on my IGTV Instagram:

(click title above for video)

I wrap myself in beautiful intricate layers, 
soft and gentle
I unwrap myself and lay bare,
bones of steel
Clap clap clap,
Do you hear the sound they make?
I sat and contemplated for a long time to upload this or not. This traditional clothing is called Songket. It belongs to my mom. It was her wedding dress. She wore this when she was 19 years old in 1984. Yes, this Songket has been around for 36 years, many years older than I am.

The bridge.
I sometimes struggle in this in-betweenness that I always caught myself in and slowly learning to either let go or embrace it.

2020, August.

I slowly picked myself back up. I visited my family more often. I reached out for help. I continued my explorations. I approached Merissa Tang - my partner in life and crime - who was studying abroad and had to come back from Melbourne, Australia - to see if she would like to collaborate in this work as a Multimedia Artist. She agreed and since then the work developed even more as we unpacked together what this new iteration meant for me now. I shared what i had hoped to use in the work:-

Multimedia specifically video projection of an interview i conducted as part of this collation of what makes an ideal woman or what makes an ideal muslim woman. It serves as a window into another space, though prerecorded, it happens concurrently as i respond to the interview live.

Paper was use as a symbolism of currency and certification. The texture and quality of it that is quite structured and rigid. Even when it was folded and moulded into shapes, it tears easily. What is the value of it? Why does it have such a high value? It often determines the quality of life one has too.

Charcoal was something i adapted from the previous use of red lipstick in the first iteration of MANMAN. This use of charcoal not only is used to further support the symbolism of currency and certification but to this proverb - Menconteng arang di muka - as an expression of how one brings shame to the family. Growing up as a muslim woman i was often told to trust in Him as he has planned and charted my life out for me and i often wondered if he knew? Anyway, also during the rehearsal process, i realised that charcoals don't actually break into small pieces easily so i really like the sound it makes when i danced or stepped on it, also the stain it leaves on the paper and also the physical wounds it leaves on my body.

Music came in slightly later but i already knew what i wanted. I knew i needed a strong female vocal to contrast with the visuals and response from the interview. I however learnt that in order for me to upload this on Youtube for it to be accessible should i want to send it as a footage for any Open Call, copyright is an issue. Therefore i am determined to hire another sound collaborator the next time!

2020, October - 2021, January

I knew at the bottom of it all MANMAN was not just about the union of people in marriage but relationships, regardless. I had to take many steps back to look at things from a different perspective. In order for me to talk about the pressing issue that i was responding to in 2019, i had to really look internally why did that matter so much to me. I realised it mattered because it concerns me and the people i love. I am also fully aware that this is the predicament for many folks out there that do not necessarily feel belong to any category that the mass majority of society 'belongs to'. I am not only a minority in race but even more so a minority in my sexual identity.

It felt like this work has come a full circle. Is it exactly done? no. Is it the final product? no.

But one thing i know for sure was that, it went to where it needed to go. Creating a work that is personal and vulnerable, was not the easiest but i know perhaps it might have given someone out there some strength to know they are not alone, and a voice to be heard.

With all these weights on my shoulder and many others like me, how do we move forward as a unit? How do we practice empathy? How do we encourage people to live and let live harmoniously? How can we all look at a person as who they are and not impose our expectations and beliefs? How can we embrace our differences?

We can all start by educating ourselves. We do not need to agree with other people but we can all learn to be kind. It starts from you. Break down such prejudices because it can only create hate and discrimination to people who are different. Encourage conversations even if they are hard to have especially with your loved ones. Emphasise that there will always be people who are different than us but it don't mean that they are any less human and undeserving.

I always ask myself what kind of a family unit and community do i want to live in?

The answer is always the same, one that is built with love, kindness, empathy, forgiving and understanding. At the end of the day, no matter the colour of your skin, the language you speak, the religion you pray to, we are all here temporarily. We do not own this space. If anything at all we are all dust.

Photos by ROAR Works & P7:1SMA

(Tap on Left/Right arrow to browse images.)

Thoughts after the work:



stained skin stained sheets

green lamp red dress

dear child please rest




still alive in this very body

they were there before you

the charcoal is now dust

green lamp red dress bright light

walk through their path

they said it is the safest route

"she is lucky"


your body against mine

your words against mine

do you not think of the hereafter they asked

this is not my battle

this body is not mine

"she is only a woman until she bears a child"


stained skin stained sheets

i danced on the dust

i danced through their path

i stained my skin with charcoal and blood

i stained the sheets


blurred lines


bended knees

"her sins are mine until she marries"

(Video snippet of the work in progress)

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