We had the good fortune of connecting with Johanna Pan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Johanna, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
Covid hit and suddenly overnight all live entertainment stopped. I don’t know that I’ve started a business but what I have definitely pivoted to was this idea that maybe the live entertainment part of art was a) no longer in existence and b) maybe it wasn’t necessary after all. So I decided to start making art on my own, and honestly, it has been kind of liberating. The structure of a show in live entertainment is and always will be an exciting challenge but making your own art – its actually an open book. You can do/create/make whatever you want, you’re in charge. There’s no director, no artistic director, no playwright and sometimes that can be really nice.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My artistic practice is focused on decolonizing the imagination and breaking down the notions of feminized labor. What on earth does that mean? I grew up in a colonized country (Singapore) and moved to another colonized country (America) and now am straddling the two. I had a rude awakening going from a place of relative ease, independence, comfort and privilege to suddenly being labeled as “other” in a place where I thought I would actually fit in better. And in reality I did fit in a lot better in the US but I was also now foreign. That was kind of when I realized how my brain had been conditioned to believe that colonization was benevolent, or that there were many ways of thinking that white standards of beauty or perfection or ideals were the best when that really isn’t true. I’ve been slowly reprogramming my brain and how I think – and that has spilled out into making sure that in my personal artistic practice I continue to constantly decolonize how I view the world.
The other thing that I believe in strongly is breaking down these notions of feminized labor. All too often things in the domestic sphere like sewing and embroidery are viewed as feminine and therefore not worth paying for – which is untrue and incredibly unfair. I hope to show more and more people the value of such work.
This wasn’t easy. Haha I wish it was. I think for a long time the reason why I enjoyed doing theatre was because I didn’t know how to feel about the world or what it was I felt about the world. And relying on a script gave me a way to challenge what I believed in or to discover what I felt. This really happened in graduate school because I finally had time to sit down and just focus on me. I mean don’t get me wrong I was working all throughout grad school. But really I had to sit down and focus on who I am and what I stood for. Because of that, I’ve started to understand more about myself and the world, and be able to share what that point of view means to me.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Ooh, I live in Singapore right now – and Singapore is all about food. I’d probably take them on a non-stop eating tour of the country, and take them to all of our parks, zoos, we have some of the best in the world.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Oh man, there’s so many people and places. It all started with Mrs Suzanne Tan, my literature teacher in Secondary School, Ms Baljeet Kaur, Ms Tessa Tan. These secondary school teachers made a world of difference to my otherwise very straightforward education in a normal school in Singapore. They set me on a path of drama, music and art that carried me through to Mrs Geetha Creffield and Miss Michelle Wong in the Drama Elective Programme at Anglo-Chinese Junior College. Literally every one who has given me money to go to school, which includes folx at church growing up, the National Arts Council of Singapore, Lee Byron at Ithaca College, Susan Hilferty at NYU, the Shubert Foundation. Seriously the list is endless. Not to mention, my family, Dan, Zi, Dede, Jen, Clint, Leon, Kendrick. Couldn’t have done it without any of you. I am the product of help from my friends and family.
Instagram: @hannabi.studio AND @jpandesign
Michelle Lim & Kendrick Tay