Behind the Scenes with Weng San
by Sit Weng San
Recently, for about 14 months, I slept in this room plastered with images of fit, slim female bodies from ‘Shape’ Magazine issued around the years of 1999-2002. This setup was for a self-portrait I made for my project Routine as Repertoire, where I recreated my college dorm room in Singapore from 20 years ago, in my current room in Los Angeles. Working on this project with other women and non-binary folks inspired me to turn the camera on myself, on a body that I had, for the last 40 years, deemed untamable, insufficient, and a symbol of ill-will and lack, a body that had been battered with judgments, imagined judgments, and self-judgments. Subconsciously, in the past, for a long time, I believed that I was undeserving of all the good things that had happened for me, and my voice was unimportant. In secondary school, I was in the TAF (Trim and Fit) club at school, where fat girls were gathered and put through exercise and meal regimes during lunch and after school. One year, we were ‘relieved’ from the mandatory mass dance performance for the Youth Olympic Games opening ceremony because we did not have the right body type. This reinforced the unacceptability of our physical bodies, 'erased' from a mass gathering, made to disappear. I was conditioned to aspire to have the bodies from these fitness magazines. I put my body through many diets and exercise regimes. I didn't aspire to be like a size zero model, but I wanted to be lean, athletic, and be what 'fit' looked like in media.. But no matter what i did, my body did not look like the bodies on my walls.
In this project, where I filmed and photographed the routines of others with embodied changes or challenges, I have also turned the camera on myself and documented my own changed and challenging routine of care, both physical and emotional, after I had undergone a total abdominal hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo for endometrial cancer. For this self-portrait, I contrasted my ‘imperfect’ body (how I used to think of my body), now further imperfected because of the surgery, with these bodies of inspiration. The act of setting up and photographing showed me how far I have come, and has allowed me to finally show genuine care and love for myself.
I could have removed these pasted pages on my walls after filming, but I left them, ‘in case’ i had to do a re-shoot. A day became a week, and then a month. Before I knew it, it was 14 months. My housemate would comment, ‘ I don’t know how you lived with this for so long. I was uncomfortable with them, but somehow never took them down until one morning, I woke up, and I knew I was ready. As I removed them, I realized that I needed to spend those 14 months in their company and now, finally, I can truly let go.
I am tremendously grateful to those who shared their experiences with me in the project, and helped me in my own journey.
Sit Weng San is a Singaporean artist currently based in Singapore and Los Angeles.
Her projects are often a response to the experience of self or those around her, focusing on ways in which bodies that are colonized, colored, fat, differently-abled, aging, economically disfranchised and/or gendered exist with complexities that defy definition, and have always been sites of resistance and resilience. Often by providing a space to see things as they are, she attempts to raise questions, and challenges these mythologies through the continuous search for what Foucault calls the ‘Third Space’, where meanings and symbols cease to exist in fixity, and can be appropriated, translated, re-historicized, and read anew.