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Animals as Peoples: SE Asian Literature & the Anthropomorphic Imaginary

28 June 2023
6:00 pm
8:00 pm

Charlotte’s Web. Animal Farm. These are just two notable literary works from the Anglophone world that depict animals like people. But should we? Join writer-researcher Nazry Bahrawi at ONCA Gallery for a talk and workshop exploring anthropomorphism in Southeast Asian animal stories.

In the Western hemisphere, the field of animal studies has evolved to distance itself from anthropomorphism, or the attribution of human traits and behaviours to non-human subjects. Anthropologist Dr. Jane Desmond, series editor of Animal Lives at University of Chicago Press, prefers academic manuscripts that consider animals “in light of their minds, emotions and social histories”.

Contrary to Desmond’s view, this workshop posits that anthropomorphism in animal stories still has its place. It makes the case that this is a staple feature of maritime Southeast Asian animal stories and folk tales, one that is especially pertinent for its peoples to make sense of race relations in the highly multicultural region, where ethnic Malays, Chinese and South Asians live, work and play.

If you are interested in the intersections between literature, narrative and animality, join us as we explore prose and poetry of real and mythical beasts from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia to delve into the good and bad of anthropomorphism.

Excerpts will be provided. You are also invited to share your own animal story by way of an object, a memory or sheer fabrication. This workshop is suitable for literary enthusiasts, creative writers and poets as well as nature lovers with little to no knowledge of Southeast Asia.

Workshop reading materials:


Nazry Bahrawi is a visiting research fellow at the Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics (CSECP) at University of Brighton. Originally from Singapore, Nazry teaches Southeast Asian literature and culture at University of Washington in Seattle. His most recent creative work is Singa-Pura-Pura, a collection of Malay speculative fiction from Singapore which he edited and translated.

Nazry Bahrawi

Image credit: illustration from New Straits Times, June 9th 1990. Detail from KS Maniam – Haunting the Tiger


This event is supported by CSECP


28 June 2023
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
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ONCA Gallery
14 St George's Place
Brighton, East Sussex BN1 4GB United Kingdom

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