The CATCH team interviews Deborah Emmanuel, a spoken word performance artist, who shares her journey, her take on introspection, and talks about what it means to make a difference
Words by Qing Hao | Photos by Johnson
“Who is Deborah Emmanuel?” If you asked the Singaporean performance artist herself, she’d laugh, and be happy to spend a 30-minute session or so exploring the concepts of self and identity, and how little it means in the end.
“I feel like I’m a channel for something that’s much larger than me,” expressed the four-time TEDx speaker, and multidisciplinary artist. With a vast background in theatre, poetry, music, and performance arts, Deborah’s writings and dialogues have been featured at international festivals such as the Makassar International Writers Festival, the Barcelona Poetry Festival and the Queensland Poetry Festival.
As a slam poet, Deborah has won multiple competitions in Singapore, Germany and Australia. Her performance work has seen places like Melbourne, Berlin, London, Bali, and Kathmandu, and she has toured alongside prolific poets like Anthony Anaxagorou and Sarah Kay.
But what is the “Spoken Word”?
“A lot of poets today start out with writing, but poetry actually began as an oral tradition, the first poetry was spoken without writing because they didn’t know how to write things down until way later.”
The art form differs from its written counterpart in its delivery. A spoken word piece is expected to have flow, musicality, and rhythmic structure, not unlike a song.
“I’ve been writing poetry since I was a child,” said Deborah. She began writing in her adolescence to deal with her feelings at the time, and Deborah explained she had a knack for writing in rhyme.
“My family was a bit unstable, and it was kind of difficult at home, so it became important for me to write.”
Her “debut” would come in Singapore Polytechnic, where she studied Applied Drama and Psychology. There, her lecturer would urge her to go for a slam poetry competition, and she ended up tying for first place.
Deborah primarily performs pieces grounded to things close to her own heart, as she feels that she wants to maintain authenticity.
“I want to create something that is true and real, something I’m actually concerned about, as opposed to just using my stage as a way to manipulate people.”
Today, Deborah is actively reducing her waste, using less electricity, and minimising her travels overseas. “I’m trying to be vegan right now because any kind of animal industry is still exploitation, and it’s servitude, which is inequality.”
To say that Deborah is different from her past self would be an understatement, over the years, the artist has evolved as a person. She believes changing the world isn’t just the domain of large figures giving speeches. Instead, it starts at the individual. It starts by getting uncomfortable, even if it’s only through seemingly small or insignificant decisions.
“It’s only through discomfort that we can really evolve. And that can manifest itself in so many ways. It could even be just, ‘oh I won’t eat meat once a week’ or ‘I’ll just do some exercise even though I don’t really like that’. The truth is that things aren’t going to get better if we just stay in our comfort zones.”