Dancing with a Cobra


I remember that time we were playing near the edge of the jungle and I came face to face with a cobra. That evening I told my mother I had danced with a snake and I showed her the undulating movement the cobra and I had made as we looked each other in the eye.

In the beginning of 2016, I moved back to South-East Asia. I had spent my earliest years in the the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Returning, after all those years, brought back half-forgotten feelings and hazy memories. Coming back gave me the perfect opportunity to explore these early childhood memories that differ so much from those collected from later periods of my life. As a child I remembered events or details that my adult self would probably find unremarkable and the big life events that an adult might consider important have long disappeared from my memory. There are many memories that probably weren’t formed at the time of the incident, but implanted from stories people told years after the event, like my supposed memory of Lee Kuan Yew’s heartfelt, tearful announcement after Singapore had been expelled from the Federation. I’m sure I was too young to remember this moment in history.

My photographs are a visual interpretation of these childhood memories but they are also an instinctive, emotional response to these altered, yet familiar places. By using my recent photographs, I am both consciously and unconsciously, recreating moments from my past. This process and the photographs themselves enable me to keep these memories alive. The process has proved to be cathartic and has helped to free me of a nagging nostalgia and melancholy caused by an abrupt departure and the loss of a nurturing and happy environment all those years ago. 

The years we had in Malaysia were surreally idyllic. I’ve wondered since if it was naivety and we were happily living our isolated lives, sheltered from reality, or if it was about the timing … probably both. 

We lived there during a historically peaceful and optimistic era, having arrived two years after the end of the Malayan Emergency and having left just before the 1969 race riots and the subsequent imposition of another emergency rule and the loss of civil liberties. Malaysia has gone on to develop and prosper but that free and breezy mood I remember has gone forever.


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Robin Titchener

Alison’s books are becoming too beautiful not to be acknowledged, but as they are each made by hand in minuscule quantities, it is almost too cruel to mention them. However if you are lucky enough to be around when one is announced, then do not hesitate. She has produced four this year, and I would highlight the first, “Dancing With A Cobra”, a dreamlike meditation on her childhood years growing up in South East Asia. She deserves every success, even if it means I risk losing a copy!