Arts and Faith: Dawn Fung
Dawn Fung is a folk singer-songwriter from Singapore currently working on her third album. She documented the Singapore Christian arts scene from 2003–2013 in the defunct e-magazine CreateLeVoyage.com. Currently she writes for Harvest and Wine, and organises informal fellowship events that connect Christians in creative fields in Singapore. She homeschools her two girls.
I first met Dawn last year when through mutual friends, she found out I wanted to embark upon this Creative Christians project. She was generous with her resources and advice (peppered with plenty of joyful laughter). While Dawn is more used to telling other people’s stories, I thought it would be fitting to share her story here.
How did you become a Christian?
I grew up in a Christian family but I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ until I was about 16 years old. I would go to church and Sunday School, have an active social life but not feel a connection to God. That emptiness drove me to ask, “Where is God in church?”
That question brought me to a church musical called Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames (Trinity Christian Centre, 1996–1997). As a creative, I would say the musical was not very good but God used the content to convict me of the need for salvation. I raised my hand during their altar call. I continued attending the church for the next few months despite not knowing anyone. I was so drawn to the worship and youth pastor’s preaching — this was unlike Sunday School where it was more worksheets and storytelling.
During a youth worship event, I remember telling God, “I really, really want to know You.” That was when I felt this gentle force pushing me to the ground. It was my first supernatural experience, and it was a very genuine one for me because there was no human intervention; I was one of the few at the back of the auditorium while everyone was in front. That experience marked the start of my relationship with God.
Soon after, you went to study theatre and literature in the UK for three years. What was your walk with God like during this period?
During that period, I learned to know and trust God for my life. I think what happens upon conversion is that though you become aware of this personal relationship with Jesus, life goes on and there’s this sanctification process.
Here is one story: I became an alcoholic in the first year of university. Going overseas was an escape because I wanted to get away from Singapore badly. The circumstances I grew up in made me want a better life somewhere else — I just didn’t want to face pain all the time.
However, when I did get to England, the pain didn’t go away. Furthermore, I was isolated because I was alone in a foreign land. So I sought help in drinking. The people I hung around with drank a lot, so I drank a lot. Sometimes I would wake up at 6pm, go drinking at a bar, and go to bed at 6am. I missed classes. I was depressed. I spent my money on alcohol instead of food. I knew something was very wrong with me when I drank in England and woke up in France, and had no recollection of what happened. I needed help but alcohol was no help. One night in desperation, I faced the wall like Hezekiah, and cried out to God to save me. Then I fell asleep. The next day, something miraculous happened: I felt nauseous when I smelt alcohol. Without the ability to imbibe, I was unable to join in my usual drinking company.
Sobered, I went back to classes. Soon after, I found a campus church and new friends. By my 3rd year in university, I was a cell group leader, started a Christian performing arts society, and ran for the position of the Student Union President (didn’t get it, but came in a decent 3rd out of seven candidates running for the position). One of my mates said I was the person who changed the most since she knew me in first year.
Could you tell us more about your 4-month stint in Paris learning mime after that?
After UK, I went to Paris to learn mime. It was a one-year programme offered by Hippocampe by Thomas Leabhart. I was unable to complete that programme because of family matters.
The firsthand exposure to apprenticeship, craft and theatre at Hippocampe transformed me. It informed my understanding of art and aesthetic to a level that I think cannot be bought at any degree programme. The “disciples” of Leabhart are people who are very dedicated to mime and have at least four years of training under him. I would consider my 4-month stint a once-in-a-lifetime exposure. I wish every artist in Singapore has a chance to experience the depth of training through apprenticeship.
In terms of my walk with God, however, it was going downhill. Though my friends in class were wonderful, lovely people, as a Christian, I longed for kindred company to talk about the faith. You can’t do Christianity by yourself — there has to be community to keep you encouraged. I kept wishing there was one person I could pray with in the arts.
Going home to Singapore was not something I wanted, but God knows better what I need. It was after my stint in Paris that I was convicted that a network of Christians in the arts, to journey with in the faith, was so necessary. That was when I started CreateLeVoyage.com and TAGS, a bimonthly meeting lab for collaborations with other believers from 2003–2006.
Thanks for sharing so much about your personal spiritual journey so far. Could you also tell us more about your relationship with music, the arts, and how this connects to your faith?
I love the arts very much, and I find creatives the most comfortable “tribe” of people to be around. The arts — its creative languages, discourses, varieties, and challenges, issues and people groups — comfort, excite and inspire me. Like how math is a natural skin for some people, art and aesthetics is for me. In general, I have an insatiable appetite to learn about the arts — almost any category and form, academic or practice. For example, one of my songs was inspired by the device of double negatives in Slavic folkloric fantasy. Richard Sennett said that doing is thinking (The Craftsman, 2008), so engaging with other creatives’ work is also part of that expansive thinking process.
I can’t help but find it so unique to our fields, when the work is not an end but a means to another line of communication. So to me, art is never an end, but always a means to something much larger and deeper. That largeness and depth is intangible but knowable; when we say the arts touch the soul, we are saying we feel that connection in the most private chambers of the heart. When it comes to that quiet space, I do not find a chasm between art and God. In fact, art is a fantastic device that raises questions to God, about God, about life, about us, for we all know deep inside ourselves that human beings just don’t have the answers for everything.
In your opinion, how is God like an artist?
The Bible also says God created the world, and us. In the foundations of the world was the plan of the cross (see Revelations 13:8). He is an artist par excellence. We have a lot to learn from Him, and we get to.
What are your thoughts about the Church?
I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour so I am God’s child and am part of the Church. There was a time in the past when I was very critical of church and felt very proud to be an outsider looking in. But I recognise that as arrogance and silliness. Church is the body of Jesus Christ. It is a gift, not a right. I could never have earned my way into church (I mean ekklesia, not buildings or programmes by institutions) by any means except faith. Nowadays, I suppose I feel more responsible about calling myself a Christian. I often think about what that means. I do like the gospels very much; Jesus Christ is remarkable and I am so amazed each time I read about His life on earth, and what that means in this age and the age to come.
You’ve interviewed many local Christians in the creative fields. Could you share with us what that has been like?
Meeting fellow Christian artists really helped me. I thought that if I told their stories, it would help other people too. I think we should never have to feel lonely as believers in the creative fields because we aren’t alone. I am thankful that Singapore is a very tolerable space for Christians and non-Christians, and everyone can get along. Hearing each person’s story is inspiring. Each story is terribly personal, and therefore beautiful. I have interviewed musicians, directors, ballet dancers, teachers, administrators, worship leaders and pastors… Everyone’s point of view is so different, and their work towards different demographics admirable. The stories are like jigsaw pieces of this fantastic picture that God is doing through the lives of these people in Singapore. I hope we keep telling them.