The Believers is a short documentary that observes the secular and non-secular rituals practiced by the average Singaporean. In juxtaposing the ceremonial and the everyday, the work gently teases out commonalities across different practices, establishing a sense of kinship and alluding to a common humanity.
This project started through a process of witnessing, of which I had inculcated while documenting Taoist and Hindu trance-based rituals since 2018. This act of witnessing changed my attitude towards religion to one that was propelled by the truth of others. This also formed a mosaic of different and sometimes, contesting truths. In this mosaic, there were also perception biases of my own in differentiating between cults, rituals and religious behaviour. This film is a result of slicing into these biases.
It was not long before I started to see similarities between the rituals in religion and the rituals of everyday life. In observing and talking to people about religious experience and expression, an idea of everydayness triumphed through the work. This everydayness showed itself in symbolistic rituals, repeated action and heightened emotions. In the little worlds that I simultaneously observed and occupied, I started to see the rituals of religion and the secular as mirrors of one another. This duality began increasingly funny to me, and started to become a major direction of the film.
The humour of the film offsets the more serious topics and questions I had to face through the making of this film. In an earlier bit of research process, I had started to talk to people who had identified themselves as individuals who have left cults. In these conversations, many of them attested to the power of cults as a process of normalisation, disguising such allegedly manipulative behaviors as everyday. This was something that I tried to think off when editing the film, the different truths and realities that people face. At the same time also maintain a possibility for absurd optimism, as I crash different spheres of human existence into an observation of fervor.
The Believers is an ongoing moving image project that is focused on the process of observation, witnessing and stillness. This project is inspired by my personal experience of witnessing trance in the middle of the cemetery in the wee hours of the morning, challenging my own frame of reality. In this journey of witnessing and questioning, the project hopes to discover and explore the conjoining existential ideas behind the different rituals we practice in secular and non-secular fashions.
This work is supported by Objectifs- Centre for Photography and Film under the Documentary Award (Emerging), exhibited at Objectifs Lower Gallery from March 2020-April 2020.