Ethnography by Leanne Dunic (Canada)

Poet Leanne Dunic and her mentor Alvin Pang@INSTINC SOHO


Leanne Dunic (Canada)

26 & 27 April 2014, INSTINC SOHO


Text by Lim Jia Ning Michelle

Ethnography opens with a reading. The multi-disciplinary artist Leanne Dunic has invited her Singaporean mentor, writer Alvin Pang, as a guest reader. He picks up a sheaf of papers and assumes the part of a fortune-teller. He takes her hand, traces the lines on her palm, and re-animates the telling for us, their captive audience.

The poetry transports us to that moment in time where Dunic had her fortune read in Chinatown. This sense of immediacy is a testament to her skill at rendering the characters who’ve moved through her life (as well as evidence of Pang’s secret flair for playing wise soothsayers).

All around us, Dunic’s poems sway gently, papers suspended on red string. Turn a corner and you come face to face with an oversized sheet of words. Her words interject the space. Following the chronology that she has inscribed into the space through string, we trace her autobiography.

Works such as “In Transit” and “Slow Sensational” mark out the way Dunic’s ethnic identity influences the way the world makes sense of her (and vice versa). The poems distil her life experiences into moments at once thoughtful and wryly humorous.

“If you wear this print of peonies,/ people may call them cabbages.” Dunic’s story is one in which her own mixed ethnic identity is perpetually thrust up against the more straightforward cultural boundaries that others are used to.

But in turning these unwarranted commentaries from strangers on planes – “There is no nose like yours in Asia – maybe in India” – into poetry, Dunic begins an ethnographic project of her own, in which these passing comments become touchstones through which Dunic understands the people around her.

In this Ethnography, the mapping of identities is then not so cursory as the colour of one’s skin, or the pattern on one’s cheongsam. Rather, it becomes a self-reflective pursuit in which one takes in the world and reflects it back at itself.

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