Reflecting on mother-daughter relationships
Playwright Nabilah Said (left) and theatre artist Sim Yan Ying (right) explore the complex relationship between mothers and daughters in the play (un)becoming and a digital exhibition on Instagram. (Photos: T:>Works)

Reflecting on mother-daughter relationships

A new digital exhibition on Instagram will have you reconsider the relationship between mothers and daughters, and better appreciate the different forms that mothering and “daughtering” can take.

Part of arts organisation T:>Works’ Festival Of Women: N.O.W. 2021, the exhibition is co-created by playwright Nabilah Said, 36, and theatre artist Sim Yan Ying, 25, on Instagram. The account, @unbecomingstories, shares real-life stories of women from different cultures and communities in Singapore, compiled from an earlier open call.

The Instagram page features screenshots of WhatsApp messages and letters between mothers and daughters, and it is meant to be an extension of the play, (un)becoming, by Nabilah and Sim. The play, which runs from 14 to 17 Jul, explores the bond between mothers and daughters through the narrative. The Instagram account complements the character-driven storylines in the play, as each story contains a rich, layered and complex narrative all on its own.

Nabilah says: “We wanted to challenge the usual stereotypes about mother-daughter relationships, which are often positive and linked to the idea of this unbreakable, beautiful bond between mother and child. I also think we often talk about mothering but not enough about ‘daughtering’ – what are the experiences and challenges of a daughter?”

In order to honour various forms of motherhood and myriad types of mother-daughter relationships in all their complexities, the stories on the Instagram page include those of non-biological mothers and daughters. Doing so, says Sim, is a way of “digging deeper into what we inherit, not just from our mothers but also from the generations of women who come before us.”

To prepare for the play, Sim also dug deep into her personal history. She re-read “a ton of WhatsApp conversations” between her and her mother from when she was 19, to help her bring to life the relationship between a teenager and her mother in the play.

Sim says: “I was honestly quite appalled by the fieriness of some of them, but I also understand that it was a phase of life. I was growing from a teenager into a young adult and trying to assert my identity, and it marked the start of my mum learning to give me space and independence.”

Indeed, working on the production has influenced the artist and playwright’s relationships with their own mothers. Sim says: “It has helped me better understand her perspectives and empathise with her struggles in motherhood, as well as consider the direction in which our relationship could grow in the future.

“It’s also made me see her as more than just my mother and realise that she is a human being with her desires, joys, and sorrows.”

Similarly, Nabilah says: “Working on this play allowed me to process my thoughts about my relationship with my mother through the years. I am starting to see her in a different light.”

She adds: “I’m still learning to be a good daughter while struggling to juggle this role with the other roles I have in my life. This dichotomy of wanting to discover your identity and sense of purpose, while acknowledging and appreciating your family history and lineage is one of the points of interest for me in this project.”

Learn more about (un)becoming here.

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