What are the spaces where you feel safest? — issue #37

What are the spaces where you feel safest? — issue #37


In school, I was always considered the smart kid who could do no wrong. While this sounds like a cliché, the cardinal rule at my all-girls Catholic high school was to never stray from this label assigned to me. “Stick to the status quo”, as dictated by one of the greatest movies of our generation. But what only a trusted few knew about me was that I sang, and quite well at that.

Every Friday, I would belt out everything from church hymns to contemporary pop, breaking free of the restrictive image people expected of me. In those moments, I was not Angel, the star student, I was Angel the singer, who made mistakes, and was pushed to her vocal and emotional limits for the sake of self-improvement.

Our choir room was my introduction to what a safe space was. To me, safe spaces are avenues to explore the plurality of our identities, as well as make sense of who we are and our place in the world. On a larger scale, such safe spaces exist for various communities across the region, making up the mystical spaces of Asia. In our recent microstory, we take a look at spiritual landscapes and how they root us in our beliefs, however we choose to define them.

Nowadays, safe spaces need not even be actual places. In our latest story on queer films in Southeast Asia, we bear witness to the brilliance of our regional filmmakers, who honor less socially accepted forms of love, even during less progressive times. Their work is not only a source of inspiration and validation to members of the community, but also a challenge for us to channel the acceptance and the sense of community championed by these spaces and extend it to those who need it most.

Got anything you’d like to share? Send us an email at hello@kontinentalist.com. A little update—I’ll be temporarily overseeing the newsletter at the moment, while Zafirah is on leave. Rest assured that your story will still be treated with the same care, if you choose to submit it to us.
Editor's note is written by Angel Martinez, who is also a writing fellow at Kontinentalist.

Featured Story
Cover image for story: Creating spaces for dialogue Exploring queer cinema in Southeast Asia, which depicts an illustrated collage of Queer film scenes and stills in vibrant hues.
Our recent story celebrates Southeast Asia’s queer cinema history. There are three main parts to the story: exploring depictions of queerness in Southeast Asia’s traditions and local contexts (referred to as “vernacular queerness” in this story), analysing the changing perceptions around the queer community, and uplifting the community’s efforts in creating safe spaces for one another to freely express themselves.
Screenshot of the crowdsourced database.
We were excited to build yet another crowdsourced database with the help of our readers, this time of Southeast Asian queer films. For submissions, we identified the categories that were essential to our analysis, such as the presence of a queer protagonist, and the depiction of vernacular queerness. This database was then used to inform most of our data visualisations in the story.
Screenshot of the queer cinema history timeline in Southeast Asia and queer length of films data-viz.
Researching this story revealed to us how varied each country’s experiences were, and how the dialogue surrounding the queer community continues to evolve. This is why in our “Changing perceptions” section, which we iterated on the most, features two of the story’s key visualisations. The first is a timeline of queer films created in reflection and response to developments in acceptance during the last few decades. The second is a Flourish visualisation that shows general patterns in the database, including countries where queer films were the most prolific, the trends in number of queer films over the years, and so on.
Screenshot of preliminary ideas for exploring how to present the queer films database; with an image of Alberto Lucas Lopez's project on data portrait as our inspiration.
Lastly, we wanted the readers to explore our database. We initially created a data portrait of each film based on categories such as length and depiction of vernacular queerness, inspired by Alberto Lucas Lopez’s project and data portraits we made for our workshop participants in the past. But after much consideration, we decided that an easily accessible and filterable database is the best way to encourage people to watch these films. We took inspiration from our previous story on alcohol beverages in Asia, and came up with this final visualisation. Maybe we’ll revisit the data portraits idea in another story!
A screen record of the final database, which allows users to navigate via unique entries.
Do check out our story—I hope you’ll learn as much about queer creators and their works as we did!
Featured story behind the scene is written by Griselda
...more from us
Cover image of Mystical Spaces in Asia; a collage illustration of mystical spaces in nature and a kampung (vernacular style wooden houses on stilts)
Asia is full of spiritual landscapes and sites of worship, which are supported by various spiritual and syncretic beliefs. These spaces may be natural, be man-made, or even exist within one’s body or mind. Read on to find out about the roles they play in Asia’s communities on our instagram.
Cover image for the Sarong story; four women of diverse background adorned in ethnic sarong used in a variety of ways.
Aside from being a visually stunning fashion staple, the sarong has a long history. Read more about how it has also been used as a tool to control ethnic communities and challenge oppressive systems.

“I’m not really used to having anyone involved in my creative process, so that’s something new for me and I like it a lot because I realised there are a lot of benefits. Other members of the team will offer perspectives that I didn’t previously consider, which helps me push the boundaries of what my work could be. Working with others has made me realise how little I actually know in the grand scheme of things, which is great!”


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Politics has a reputation for fragmenting even our most intimate relationships. Self-publishing micro-press Makó released a zine to help us repair our connections in an age of revisionism and disinformation. Read
The Season 2 premiere of Emmy-winning television series Abbott Elementary shows our favourite Philadelphia public school teachers making their campus more accessible to students with special needs. Watch
In the autobiography Hikayat Abdullah, Munshi Abdullah recounted that the British colonial resident of Melaka, William Farquhar, had paid a bomoh (sorcerer, spiritual medium) to trap elephants. Get a glimpse of the controversial world of bomohs in Singapore and Malaysia. Read
Explore (or contribute to) this crowdsourced, interactive map which documents LGBTQ+ people’s experiences in places around the world, created by Lucas LaRochelle. Explore

Did you know?
Illustrator's rendition of a Bissu priest dressed in traditional garment. The priest wears a green long sleeved buttoned top with sarong-like bottoms and holding a large traditional knife or sword.
Spiritual role of Buginese Bissu priests

Even though the majority of the Bugis ethnic community in South Sulawesi follows the Islamic religion, the residing Buginese communities still practice traditional rituals and beliefs. One such belief involves the the existence of five genders: cisgender men, cisgender female, transgender men, transgender women, and androgynous or intersex individuals, also known as Bissu. The Bissu embody the mortal and the deity. The role of the Bissu in the community is sacred as they partake in ceremonies to heal the sick, officiate at weddings, and bestow blessings upon their people. Their rituals take a syncretic form which blends islamic beliefs with indigenous trances, chants, and possessions by spirits or deities.