UNDER THE SK!N

 The Peak meets with the individuals behind SK!N, an avant-garde passion project that aims to get people talking about the world’s darkest secret: human trafficking.

Text by Maya Michael

SK!N media invite - pic

While it can be hard to imagine that issues such as human trafficking still exist in this day and age, the truth is that these victims are often hiding in plain sight. Just because it is a global problem doesn’t mean it isn’t happening in your town. It could be anyone, from the cleaning lady in your office and the server in your favourite kopitiam hangout, to the forlorn-looking nanny who dotes on your neighbour’s children.

For many of these individuals, the story usually begins with the promise of a better life, only for them to be duped by unscrupulous individuals looking to make a quick profit. This perilous journey to supposedly greener pastures often involves traversing dangerous trails in the dead of night and being ferried around like cargo goods in order to evade detection, with many never even making it safely past the border.

So why isn’t human trafficking a frequent talking point despite its prevalence? The answer to this lies in a number of complicated reasons, including lack of proper awareness and the victims being unwilling to share their side of the story for fear of being caught, sent back home… or worse. While a sure-fire solution towards eliminating this global problem has yet to be determined, there are those who believe that empathy towards these victims could be a step towards the right direction. As the Dalai Lama once said: “Compassion is the radicalism of our time.”

It is here that theatre projects such as SK!N shine through. Presented by local performing arts company TerryandTheCuz and Australian choreographer Ashley Dyer, this interactive theatre aims to get people talking about the issue by immersing the audience in a scenario that is based on the real accounts of victims of human trafficking. As explained by Terence Conrad, the director behind the project: “Our initial plan was to just do a performance; but the more people we spoke to, the more we realised that there were three very distinct stories where the journeys and endings always remained the same.”

Terence Conrad, TerryandTheCuz (2)

Terence Conrad, Director, TerryandTheCuz.

“If I were to just tell you these stories, you wouldn’t be able to grasp it. So, we realised that we couldn’t just create a typical show where everyone applauds once the curtains come down. That would have been a disservice to these victims, who were brave enough to share with us their story, and we wanted to do these stories justice. It had to be more than just an experience, but also one that was different for each participant.”

Govin Ruben, the co-founder of TerryandTheCuz, shares the same sentiments: “When you start meeting these victims and listening to their stories, you start to realise just how big this issue really is. It makes all those other first world problems seem so trivial. This project is about them and their message, and what we want is to get people to talk about it. So, instead of just telling a story, we want show it.”

In order to accomplish this, Conrad and Ruben reached out to Tenaganita , a non-profit organisation that has been protecting and promoting the rights of women, migrants and refugees. Established in 1991 by the late human rights activist, Dr Irene Fernandez, her husband, Joseph Paul Maliamauv revealed his thoughts about this project: “When you think about a performance, you usually expect to just sit down and watch something transpire on stage. With SK!N, you get to be part of an experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if some participants walk away feeling a little traumatised after the show. But I assure you that this is just a small taste of what really happens, and it is far worse than you can imagine. Most of it is based on the real life experiences of refugees and migrants who had gone through the trafficking process.

Joseph Paul Maliamauv - Tenaganita (2)

Joseph Paul Maliamauv, Tenaganita

“My hope for this project is that it will make Malaysians more sensitive towards this issue. These victims are everywhere, but we don’t really see them. If you take a little bit of time to get to know them, you’ll realise that they did not end up here willingly. While they do have jobs, most of them are not even getting paid. They really have no way to escape. So, if we all do our bit, hopefully, we can become a more humane society.”

SK!N is currently running at Art Printing Works (APW), Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. The show will run until 13 August with two performances daily. Tickets are MYR80 and a portion of the proceeds will go to Tenaganita. Tickets can be purchased from the Box Office in JayaOne, The School Jaya One or at www.tix.my. Tickets are also sold at the door one hour before each show.

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