When we start down the path of the artist, we never know whom we may encounter. I have been fortunate enough to meet people who have become my friends, playmates, teachers, confidants, and even heroes. With this month honoring the 35th Anniversary of the Women’s History Movement, I thought it appropriate to use this year’s theme, “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives”, to highlight one of those special people.
An actress, filmmaker, comedian, screenwriter, director, social activist for women’s rights, this woman is also the epitome of the theme for International Women’s Day: “Make it happen.” Her determination for full self-expression through the arts, and commitment to women’s empowerment globally, are something to marvel. Her name is Kiemlan M. Tjong, and in the midst of her fiercely creative life, she made time to support me personally – when I, as a woman, felt powerless.
About a decade before, we met while training together at the Drama Studio London in England. Honestly, we were not well acquainted during our school years. We were at a polar opposite points in our journey, and simply did not connect. She was a jovial spirit and went by the name “Kim” at that time. She had boundless energy, and the twinkle of mischief you might expect from a child. I was serious-minded, and focused on “being responsible” to my family – I spent so much time worrying about getting everything right. I even told her years later that her playfulness actually got on my nerves at that time (no, this is not a tale of utter, syrupy sweetness) – we had a good laugh about that together!
About five years after graduating from our professional acting program, we randomly struck up a conversation over Facebook. She was back in her native Netherlands and I was in Los Angeles. We traded stories about our lives as actors in these vastly different markets. In time, however, we shared much more than work experiences, and I let her know that I was struggling with serious health concerns. She listened, offered advice, and encouraged me. Yet my mind continued to be frantic with uncertainty.
With a major surgery looming, Kiemlan, a practicing Buddhist, invited me to chant with her via Skype. I was not a Buddhist, but I was extremely grateful for her support. Despite a nine hour time difference between us, we met regularly for many weeks. That experience lifted me, and transformed me at my core. Uncertainty was no longer something to worry about. It just was.
Kiemlan told me that she was soon running an Artist’s Way group in Rotterdam, and encouraged me to join the group via Skype. This would be at least the fourth time that I had been through this book, but the first time with a group. It was to be the most compelling.
In those several weeks before my surgery, all five of us delved into the process of reconnecting with our own creativity. Most of our group sessions were held in Dutch; yet the language of the artist was easy to understand. So was the growing feeling of empowerment.
Three years later, our friendship had expanded – and I sat quietly pondering the unfathomable. It was time to inform the good men and women with whom we had both trained at acting school that she was gravely ill. All of it seemed impossibly wrong.
It has now been a year since her passing, and her amazing spirit and energy encouraged me to share this story with you. Our journey from colleagues, to artist allies, to friends was not one I could have ever imagined the first day we crossed paths those years ago. Kiemlan’s creative warrior spirit has woven a place in the fabric of my heart forever. She has also shown me that we each “make it happen” through choosing to connect with other human beings, even when there doesn’t seem to be enough time.
I hope you’ll take a moment to enjoy this collection of her work in memory of an incredible artist who was not only a woman deserving of recognition, but also a compassionate human being, who was an activist for all.
“The last solo spot saw Kim Tjong Tjin Joe – as Lady Nijo in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. Short as it was, it was perfectly delivered and precise while also serving as a reminder that professional presentation can help win over audiences before a word is uttered.” – Henry Everett, The Stage Reviews
TEDxAmsterdamWomen Speech : Art in Society: 28 Jan 2011 ( in Dutch – enable Google subtitles ). Kiemlan talks about art in society: http://www.tedxamsterdamwomen.nl/minitedtalk-kiemlan-m-tjong-tjin-joe/
(VIDEO) Performance at the International Community Arts Festival 2011 ( Theater Zuidplein: Rotterdam, Netherlands ). Chinese Creation Myths: Pan Gu created the heavens and the earth & Nu Wa: http://youtu.be/ezau0Hx42VA
(VIDEO) Performance “Zhong” ( Wijktheater: Rotterdam, Netherlands ). She used this piece to promote human rights for women. Performer, Director: http://youtu.be/iyHpjr8UZ_M
(WEBSITE) Her independent film “The Compliment” is about a Chinese teenage girl that encourages her friends to see compassion as encouragement and heroism: http://kiemlan.com/acvisuals.com/The_Compliment.html
(CD BABY) Finally, a collection of vocal performances in Recorded album “Memoir of Hope”: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/kiemlanmtjong
What women have weaved stories in your life? I invite you to share their stories below in the comments, throughout this month honoring women, and beyond. Please subscribe to the free Ms. In The Biz newsletter any time for more great articles like this one in your inbox.
– Natasha Younge
Dedicated to Kiemlan Tjong Tjin Joe, May 29, 1968 – March 20, 2014.
“2015 Theme: Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives,” National Women’s History Project, http://www.nwhp.org/womens-history-month/theme/
“International Women’s Day 2015 Theme: MAKE IT HAPPEN,” International Women’s Day, http://www.internationalwomensday.com/theme.asp#.VOwdcS7155w
Special Thanks to Adrian Ciocoiu of ACvisuals.