a prelude to a collection of new works by Alecia Neo, inspired by these personal stories.
The betel quid is a curated explosion of flavours.
Unlovable at first bite, but ultimately an addiction that cannot be denied.
A time-travelling Neolithic experience.
It is a constellation of our shared worlds in balance:
The warmth of friendship extended to a stranger,
The alliance between lovers, the approval of the family clan,
The promise of progeny, beauty, health, nobility,
And reverence for that, which is larger than us.
All that we believe in.
An elaborate exercise in diplomacy.
Echoing through the Indo-Pacific,
The betel quid’s pervasive breath dances around Oceania,
Southeast Asia, South Asia, Madagascar,
And the curl of the Mediterranean.
In our city, time compresses—
The royal courts savour a chewing as the humble farmers do,
Albeit under their flamboyantly trimmed shelters.
Lithic pressure, like the haunting red faces of betel juice cascading violently into each other;
Memories fading into whispering walls on Market Street.
The home-made quid meticulously prepared by womenfolk,
Makes way for pre-packed, silvered and flavoured areca fragments.
Or provisions may come forth via the convenient labour of street stalls along Geylang Serai,
Or Desker Road.
Where do we go from here?
Betel set. Malay Peninsula, mid-20th century. Natural fibres. ACM,XXXX-10779
Take a closer look at the unassuming betel box. You or your grandparents may have one at home. Nowadays it serves mostly as a decorative item. Only a few might know that it harbours countless customs of comfort and conviviality. Artist Alecia Neo traces the evolution of regional hospitality rituals, performed by women, centred around the betel leaf (an evergreen creeper vine), revealing how the ancient act of chewing on a betel quid reverberates through our past, present, and future.
Rites and symbols associated with betel leaf practised across South and Southeast Asia are evoked by two performers who engage in an unspoken dialogue of bodily correspondences, hand gestures, encounters and partings. The voiceover weaves together pantuns, written and recited by octogenerian Peranakan Baba GT Lye, and women's stories that speak of rites of passage, acts of kinship, and the labour of caregiving. Pulsing with different tempos, ramah-tamah enacts a cross-generational dialogue about legacy and ageing, autonomy and women’s neverending quest for aliveness.
Meet the creative team and the people behind the stories.
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