When it comes to finding our own voices and telling our own stories, Southeast Asians face two major challenges.
In the international media, we exist as the backdrop for the sorts of stories editors think people in the West want to hear: an arena in which global superpowers play chicken, a location for colourful Eat, Pray, Love fantasies, or a source of weird-looking fruits and “kooky Asians”.
At home, we run into obstacles when it comes to speaking up. Authoritarian governments and repressive laws restrict our options and reduce the space in which we can frame our own issues and craft our own narratives. Many across Southeast Asia have already paid the price for standing up for their beliefs.
I’ve encountered both these problems myself, as a freelance journalist and as an activist. It’s frustrating. The issues that we need to grapple with and the stories that we can tell are numerous and complex. There is insufficient space to address them in the international press, and insufficient political will to address them in the local media.
That’s why it was a no-brainer when historian Thum Ping Tjin approached me with the idea that would become the site you’re now looking at—the need for a principled website dedicated to studying and reflecting Southeast Asia in all its glory was immediately clear. Award-winning comics artist Sonny Liew later joined us, because this need for platform and authorship for Southeast Asians isn’t just limited to journalism and academic research, but the arts too.
New Naratif was born of our love for and fascination with Southeast Asia, and our unwavering belief that the region’s stories aren’t just entertaining exotica for Western audiences, but are in and of themselves important and worth telling. This is our home; we want to tell its stories on our own terms, in ways which are meaningful and important to us.
This isn’t a vanity project to indulge ourselves: this is a journey for all of us, and you are an integral member of the team. By becoming subscribing to New Naratif, you’re not just supporting our work; you’re contributing to a collective effort to build Southeast Asian identity and solidarity, and to nurture a platform for journalism, research, and art where Southeast Asians can recognise ourselves and our truths.
Subscribers don’t just get access to our content. We aren’t selling you a product. We’re asking you to join a movement. Our subscribers are part of the conversation, participating in discussions and having a say in the sort of themes and issues you would like the site to explore. We believe that everyone has their own area of expertise, and we invite you to weigh in on subjects and attend our offline events. New Naratif belongs to all who support it, and you will always have access to our editors.
None of this is for profit—all the money you commit to the project goes into the running and sustaining of the website. We pay our contributors—be they writers, photographers, researchers or artists—because we know from personal experience how unfair it is to be asked to work for “exposure”. We embody the governance that we want to see in this region, and pledge to be honest and transparent about the way things are run at New Naratif.
The international media limits our stories, the local political contexts restrict them. But those stories are still out there. Help us bring them to you—join New Naratif today.
Kirsten Han is Editor-in-Chief of New Naratif, and a Singaporean journalist whose work often revolves around the themes of social justice, human rights, politics and democracy. Her bylines have appeared in publications like The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Asia Times and Waging Nonviolence. As an activist, Kirsten has advocated for an end to the death penalty in Singapore, and is a founding member of abolitionist group We Believe in Second Chances. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.