“I’ve lost interest in people
Doesn’t mean I don’t view them as equal.
We’re capable of saying so many words
Yet nothing is really heard.
I look at you looking at your screen
I’m tired, more than I have ever been.”
There was silence at the Cloud on Friday night as every single soul stared at Phavine Phung reciting one of her poetry from her newly launched “On the Hilltop of Hempstead Heath” book. The author was standing at the centre of the intimate crowd, getting the spotlight she deserved.
“On the Hilltop of Hempstead Heath” is a compilation of poems covering wide range of unspoken emotions – insecurities of a woman about her body and the journey of a woman in a patriarchal society.
Phavine Phung said, “The making of this book is quite unplanned. I have been writing poetry a lot last year. I started reading some of the poems to a few people and then I was encouraged to put them together. Some of the poems go along with the paintings that I made. The poems are quite personal. They’re mostly about how I look at the world from my point of view as a woman living in a patriarchal society. They are mostly about my own journey of confronting the toxic patriarchal values, resisting it and reclaiming back my rights, my emotions and my own space.”
Ms Phung started writing her book in September 2017. The writing phase lasted until July this year and then went on to editing and proofreading before it was finally released in public last Friday.
“When you’re a woman living in an oppressive society, women can sometimes be over sexualised, thus it feels like the ownership of our bodies is taken away,” she shared when asked about the theme of her literary masterpiece.
The book contains 21 poems that tell stories of anger, grief, danger desire, and suppressed memories.
“Grief is about grieving a lost love and childhood. The part about desire is also quite important. It’s liberating to write that part. It’s about a woman liberating her desires despite what people say about her. The last part of the book is simply about celebrating our being humans and embracing both sadness and joy. It’s about appreciating small things around us that we have taken for granted,” she noted.
The collection of poetry also comes with stunning artworks that Ms Phung did herself. She has long been an art enthusiast since childhood.
Ms Phung is a self-taugh artists; and she uses this talent – along with her writing prowess – to express her passion, emotions and experiences.
Having a heart of an artist since the beginning, Ms Phung was fascinated by drawing and colouring. But she did not think that she was talented enough and never thought of pursuing a career in art.
But now that she holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies and is currently pursuing her PhD in Visual Sociology at Goldsmith University of London – a school well-known for specialising in arts – Ms Phung is carving a name of her own in the art space. She also shared that she has learned so much about society and its connection to arts when she conducted her research.
“There is also something called activism art. Some of my paintings and writing are considered activism art because I want to actively engage the audience to issues, particularly gender issues,” she explained.
“I’m pursuing a PhD in visual sociology because I’m interested in how we can use art to address sociological issues. Art can speak to people on a deeper level. It heals your soul. I think art can be used to engage the audience to serious matters.”
Ms Phung began to take painting as a serious and professional craft in late 2017. She has painted a series of images depicting various themes relating to patriarchal society, personal experiences and emotions.
In early 2018, she held her art exhibition, Female Embodiment, that depicted deep-rooted concepts and traditions that society has planted into women, and how these traditions suppressed the freedom of women in the society.
A woman portrayed as a tree with robotic limbs in her “An Old Tree” painting is Ms Phung’s personal favourite among her works in the exhibit. “It’s an acrylic painting I did a while back and I wrote a poem under the same name. An Old Tree features a robotic woman/tree standing on a planet with no daylight. I think about some of the unhealthy and un-empowering lessons we learn as women from our family, teachers and schools. Some of our desires are suppressed deep in us and it’s a taboo to liberate them. The harmful things we learn are rooted deep in us and it takes a lot of time and effort to uproot it,” she said.
Both her paintings and poetry depict various subjects ranging from self-consciousness, reproductive rights to shattered relationships. The paintings and poetry aim to explore and bring to the forefront the difficult emotions such as guilt, sadness, childhood trauma and loneliness that people, especially women, try to hide behind their masks.