Faces of GOJEK · 2 Mar 2020

Hasyimah Harith: on elevating the traditional, finding home in grey areas, and listening to what the body wants

Meet the women that embody the Gojek spirit of empowerment. This March, as we celebrate IWD, we put the spotlight on those who are re-shaping the industries they are in, marching to the beat of their own drums, and/or simply redefining what it means to be a woman.

Art breathes and responds to an ever-mercurial world. It’s the very reason P7:1SMA (pronounced prisma) exists: a company that is home to associate artists of all races, dance performances that attempt to answer the unanswerable, and everything else that begets more questions than we have answers for. 

P7:1SMA’s co-founder, Hasyimah Harith, lets us in on the grey areas she finds comfort in. 

Gojek team (GT): First things first – how did you get into dancing?

Hasyimah Harith (HH): In secondary school, I used to perform for celebrations – assemblies, appreciation performances for teachers, things like that. But I only started formally learning Malay dance sometime around JC. 

I was privileged enough to have gone through a traditional path of study, but dance made me think about this privilege and different ways of living. When I was in Azpirasi – which does traditional and contemporary Malay dance –, I realized that real learning came in when I had to build relationships with people from different backgrounds. The medium is in many ways a means to learn about humans and humanity, and is also a tool to help me know my own body better. 

I am so addicted to it. I can use dance to enable, teach, and be on the receiving end of knowledge.

GT: How did P7:1SMA begin?

HH: I met my husband, Haizad, in Azpirasi. At my 5th-year mark, we both noticed our senior dancers leaving, even after investing a lot of hours in training. Naturally, the question was: what next? What do we do with this knowledge? What else can we do with dance?

We wanted to see how we could elevate all the preserved traditions, and use dance to question, to critique, to consider contemporary issues that we face at the moment. So Haizad and I, along with our friend Hariz, started P7:1SMA together, bonded by our courage and curiosity.

GT: What do you do in P7:1SMA?

HH: Is it too dramatic to say that I think of myself as the wind? 

GT: Maybe, but go on.

HH: *laughs* Okay, so I am like the wind. On paper, I am managing the company, but I don’t like referring myself as the company manager because it adds unnecessary hierarchy. The wind can shapeshift: sometimes I do boring paperwork things, sometimes I blow people into the direction they need to go. And I perform too, as a means of walking the talk. 

GT: Marrying the traditional with the contemporary sounds like a monumental task. How do you tackle this?

HH: I think we always have to be in that headspace where we acknowledge that arts have a way of transforming attitudes and belief systems. I’m not too worried about being too literal with it, because I know whatever I create and comes from me is a thread pulled from my worldview: one that is influenced by the traditional and the current. At the same time, sometimes labels like ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ might be too limiting for works that can trigger conversations. We should aspire to embody the in-between, and maybe stop thinking of labels for a while. 

GT: Are you worried that these might not resonate with your audience?

HH: What humbles me the most is that my art doesn’t always register with the spectators. I don’t have the desire to insist on others my point-of-view, but I do hope that they are inspired to have their own opinions on difficult issues, and have the courage to share their ways of soothing, coping, or healing.

GT: Your work touches a lot on the concept of ‘nafsu’ – desire/lust in Malay. Where did this stem from?

HH: When practicing and embodying the wisdom that Malay dance carries, you turn into this really beautiful, submissive, Malay woman, right? Someone to be treasured, protected, with modesty so sacred. I find that this woman has so much power that others feel the need to control it. 

She is asked to never gaze directly at the men while dancing, yet move in a dignified way that subjects her to receive multiple gazes. Sometimes I wonder who controls this narrative. My take is that the wisdom of practicing traditional art forms can be healing and traumatizing – a lot is forced upon the body and mind of the performer.

Which then begs the question: as a woman, who actually owns my body? Who dictates what my body wants and/or needs? I want to consider my own desires as I mark checkpoints throughout my life and aging body.

GT: Tell us a bit more about P7:1SMA’s upcoming project, Jiwang.

HH: At P7:1SMA, we love thinking about country and community. The term 'jiwang' could be an adjective, or a marker, or a catch-all term that relates to the concept of self-pity, indulgent feeling you find in rock band songs from the 80s and 90s. We wonder if this is probably birthed from collective trauma and a need to escape.

But the most interesting thing is that we’re still into it today. To this very day, 20 years after the 90s, the radio still plays jiwang songs. So we ask: why? Why the collective, sappy sadness? 

Follow P7:1SMA on Facebook to stay updated on upcoming shows. For more, on P7:1SMA, click here.

What’s all this about?

Share This Article

Related Article