NASYITAH TAN WAH LING (b. 1975)
SUSTAINABLE TEXTILE ARTIST & EDUCATOR
When Nasyitah Tan talks about LOOMS, a creative studio she set up six years ago to make handcrafted textile goods such as card cases and clutches, she uses the terms “craft” and “artisan”. The language choice is deliberate. The LOOMS team comprises women, many of whom are homemakers and women from the lower-to-middle classes in Singapore. But Nasyitah is quick to clarify that LOOMS does not strive to empower women through teaching them crafting skills – a notion which can ironically be disempowering. Instead, she sees their decision to be part of the organisation as an empowered choice in itself.
In the early days, Nasyitah had set out to help women from low or even no income backgrounds. However, she found that it was difficult to keep them committed to the programme, and realised that this was probably because it was not complementary to the realities of their lives. She realised that the compulsion to help these women, even with the best intentions, was rooted in seeing them as disadvantaged. Reading the work of sociologist Teo You Yenn and psychologist Donna Hicks introduced her to the concept of dignity when it comes to poverty.
“It opened my eyes. I started framing the work at LOOMS around the concept of returning the women their dignities,” shares Nasyitah.
What this entailed was allowing her team of women to set their own income targets each month – though most of them set these very low initially, some did learn how to recognise their own abilities better. Or understanding that some of these women might need to leave in order to deal with a family responsibility, and giving them the option of coming back when the time was right. Nasyitah’s work hence is as much about being attuned to what these women want and need for their own lives, as it is to decide what print to produce this month or what to teach in a workshop.
Ultimately, the realities and desires of people living in poverty in the country are poorly understood, from a policy making perspective down to basic societal perceptions. Says Nasyitah: “In Singapore, poverty is linked to your income level, the type of house you live in, that kind of thing. But there’s also the poverty of opportunities, the poverty of ideas and experiences. We need to start seeing people in the lower income groups as people with voices and people with talents, not just as numbers.”
To know about LOOMS, visit www.theloomsworkshops.com.