Curators’ note

The personal and the public are only divided by a porous border. The works of our pioneering writers, many undeniably feminist in nature, demonstrate that navigating domestic life, relationships and the self are just as political as writing to confront the injustices of social and political life.

In this exhibition, these writers have been distinguished into ‘personal’ and ‘public’ realms, not based on the greater significance and impact of their work, but the environment they choose to draw their inspiration from. Here, we witness themes of colonialism, patriarchy, discrimination and oppression wrestled with through a variety of lenses. These battles are ongoing. But in all arenas, resistance—by women, ethnic minorities, Indigenous people* and the marginalised—against the ruling forces materialise, despite arduous circumstances. This exhibition captures some of these struggles, and reveals how through opposition, new realities can be constructed.

* The term “Indigenous” shifts according to different political contexts. Indigeneity is deeply tied to the ongoing consequences of colonialism on specific marginalised populations. But even within the Malay world, Indigenous populations are diverse. Indigeneity is not simply about a population being native to the land, but also about their relationship to colonialism and their ability to exercise social, economic and political power on their own ancestral land.

Browse Literary Pioneers 2022’s publication here:

Our Pioneers

Our pioneering writers weave their personal and socio-political landscapes through their craft. Laced together like a tikar, their writing fuses intergenerational knowledge and experiences with wisdom drawn from their unique standpoints. They speak back as writers and creatives; as mothers and carers; as academics and feminists; as educators and freedom fighters. Ultimately, they jawab balik despite their odds, as Malay women frequently do.

Raja Aisyah Sulaiman

Raja Aisyah Sulaiman’s characters show that even the most personal of acts can be a force for change. These expressions against the restrictions of aristocratic life are derived from the same fighting spirit that facilitated Raja Aisyah’s resistance against Dutch colonisation in her native land.

Kumpulan Bebas Melata

Kumpulan Bebas Melata summon memory as one of their tools of resistance, in a wider society that has allowed us to forget so much, and too often. Their writing remembers the intimacy of land, lost connections, familial ties and strained relationships, faith and spirituality. They dwell on the lives of those who have been omitted or forgotten by an uncaring system, and a cold society.


Adibah Amin breathes life into her utopian political imagination. Her words question and critique the social order she confronts daily: the horrors of war, the atrocities of colonialism and feudalism, and the collective struggle for independence and liberation.

Rasiah Halil, A/P Hadijah Rahmat AND Sa’eda Buang

For Rasiah Halil, Associate Professor (A/P) Hadijah Rahmat, and Sa’eda Buang, resistance is a never-ending process pivotal to transformation. They use incisive poetry and prose to reject classism and capitalist materialism. In re-energising knowledge-seeking and communal support as part of a long-history of Islamic and Malay traditions, the bedrock of their critical thought is one that emerges unapologetically from the Malay world.


We would like to thank Rohani Din, A/P Hadijah Rahmat, Kamaria Buang, Rasiah Halil, Sa’eda Buang, Nordita Taib, Faridah Taib, and the family of Adibah Amin for generously contributing to the exhibition.

Translation of Rasiah Halil’s poems are her own.
Fezhah Maznan

Co-Curatorial Advisor
Syaheedah Iskandar
Diana Rahim

Diana Rahim
Researcher & Translator
Liyana Nasyita
Nabilah Husna
Content Creators
for Educational Kits

Annaliza Bakri (Malay)
Geraldine Cheang (English)
Fellow Design

Visit Us

Check out the physical exhibition at the The Arts House at the following timings: 4–20 November, 11am – 9pm daily.

For more programmes about the SWF 2022 Literary Pioneers, please visit www.singaporewritersfestival.com




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