10 Dec 2014: ‘If I were an animal, I would be a humpback whale because I love the ocean,’ Sharda Harrison muses. ‘Whales are intelligent, graceful and gentle. I consider myself a very refined animal anyway, and I would like to imagine in my crazy mind that, in some sense, I am a whale.’ It’s an apt starting point to our conversation, as she has always grown up around animals. With Bernard Harrison – the former chief executive officer of Wildlife Reserves Singapore – as her father, Sharda spent most of her childhood in the Singapore Zoo, and was taught to love and care for our environment.
‘I’m not against the consumption of meat, for I would be a hypocrite to say that, but my father always said that if you have to eat an animal, make sure you can kill it,’ she explains. ‘We are living in fast times. We eat meat on a massive scale, which has led to us treating animals as though they don’t have a conscience or feel pain, and I wanted to explore the question of why we do what we do.’
And that is precisely what she’ll be doing this month. Taking that question as her title and starting point, she devised a solo show simply titled Why Do We Do What We Do? It is produced by Pink Gajah Theatre – a company she runs with her mother and brother, film artist Sean Harrison – in collaboration with literary arts group Word Forward, with whom Sharda has worked for a few years.
The performance tells the story of a disgruntled zookeeper and her two tiger charges, the spirit of a cow that had been slaughtered for meat, a chicken that stumbles into a predator’s den, and other characters. ‘This is a show that questions the collective conscience,’ she says. ‘The Japanese have a ceremony where they thank the fish for being a source of food. Have we forgotten the sacred ways of the land, earth and sky as we move towards higher skyscrapers and bigger economies?’
While she acknowledges that we might not want to confront these ideas, it’s why she set up Pink Gajah in the first place. ‘The name of the company means “pink elephant”, and the subject matters we talk about are like the pink elephant in the room – no one wants to talk about them,’ she shares. ‘We want to start exploring all the topics that have been forgotten or that currently need to be addressed so we may reflect, remember and learn as a society.’