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"It has become very important for me to operate from a more altruistic place"

Designer Eugyeene Teh is an artist fuelled by the deliberate act of giving, writes Suzy Wrong.

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Eugyeene Teh: The Act of Giving

Date: 13 Sep 2021

Eugyeene Teh is an artist fuelled by the deliberate act of giving.

Like many creatives, Melbourne resident Eugyeene Teh has turned this pandemic period into a significant moment of reckoning. Taking some imposed time off, the theatre-maker, architect and designer, who works across theatre, dance, opera, and fashion, is re-evaluating the how’s and why’s of his artistic pursuits.

“During my times in deep reflection, I wanted to redirect those creative mental energies to something important and useful. I’ve known about the untapped potential of the brain and so set myself the challenge of rewiring it to evaluate my values and become a better person in my processes, the way I engage with the community, and how to serve it better,” says Teh.

“I began at the start of the pandemic with a personal community project to make free custom masks for any of my friends who needed or wanted them. Since then, this deliberate act of giving has grown into bigger things.”

Having extensively collaborated with companies including Melbourne Theatre Company, Malthouse Theatre, and Sydney Chamber Opera, Teh’s work has also received recognition at international festivals including Tokyo Festival – World Competition, Pesta Raya Malay Festival of Arts in Singapore, and Music Theatre Now Network of International Theatre Institute in Rotterdam, in addition to prominent Australian festivals in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin.

“Halfway through [the first wave of] the pandemic, Sapidah Kian and I were asked to lead the Green Room Awards Association as co-presidents. My primary motivation for taking on this volunteer role came from an evaluation of myself which led to a steadfast determination to give back to the community, and to take this opportunity of affirmative action to make big, meaningful changes to the association, the performing arts sector and the broader industry.

Teh continues, “The toughest part of this role, which ultimately consumed most of my waking hours, was the responsibility and pressure to navigate an association built on broken patriarchal structures and to shift the lens to make big changes. Our vision is to dismantle and radically reframe, redefine and reconstruct a performing arts landscape in Victoria and beyond, that reflects and nourishes contemporary and future arts practices and values.

“All this was to be done with dwindling support due to the multiple effects from the pandemic like mental health and career changes, and pushback from numerous conservative-minded people resistant to change from within the industry. I must say, we now have a very small but incredible volunteer team who are moving forward with us, and we are steering this leviathan of a ship in a good direction.”

Not only did Teh introduce an exciting new form and identity for Green Room’s 2021 ceremony in June, but he has also been working towards Trojan Women with Burgtheater in Vienna and “scatterings of other projects” including a design for Melbourne’s inaugural RISING festival in May, which was cancelled due to Victoria’s lockdowns.

While it may seem business is back to usual for Teh, changes have been afoot.

“It has become very important for me to operate from a more altruistic place, to work from strong core values and to be grateful for and recognise the opportunities I have,’ he says.

“Namely, the opportunity to have a voice and use it on behalf of others who don’t; the opportunity to work alongside some of the most intelligent and boundary-pushing artists in our generation; and the wherewithal to be guided by my cultural philosophies to make important decisions in a conciliatory manner.”

To achieve this, Teh says he has broken down his personal structures and created more time for important matters, fully engaging with the handful of projects he’s committed to.

“I also got stuck into learning mode – listening to people and what they need, learning how the broader world works, and generally becoming a more outward-facing entity, in the realisation that we exist in a world with many, various, diverse thoughts, ideas and needs,” he says.

The world has speculated on how lives will transform as a result of COVID-19 interruptions that have brought about almost two years of shifts and pivots to every individual’s modus operandi. Eugyeene Teh, however, is staying faithful to central principles that intend to “dismantle the patriarchy through decolonisation, and advocate for and support underrepresented minority identities, particularly people of colour and the queer community.”

This interview article was commissioned by Diversity Arts Australia as part of the Creative Lives During Covid series, with support from Create NSW.

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