Continuing on from the first installation of our round-up of power women (you can read it here), we further delve into the inspiring lives of some oh-some-amazing women. Phenomenal in their own individual fields and distinguishing themselves as forerunners in society, these Singaporean women — simply put — do it all.
In this second segment, we’ll be rummaging through the riveting times and tribulations of actress Janice Koh, fashion mogul Odile Benjamin and master violinist Siow Lee-Chin.
The ‘Champion of the Arts’ is not one to be undermined. She was a former Nominated Member of Parliament where she had actively stepped up to “advocate for more financial support for the arts, highlighting the role of literature, creativity and critical thinking in our education system.” Forward-thinking with a passion for liberating the art scene in Singapore, Janice always has us, the people, in mind in her conquest to develop a maturing, thriving and inclusive art environment.
Having then since moved on to theatre stage and television acting, Janice is now well-known for her role as the ambitious lawyer Angela Ang in the Mediacorp Channel 5 legal drama ‘The Pupil’. She has also been in films such as Ken Kwek’s ‘Unlucky Plaza’, Kelvin Tong’s ‘The Faith of Anna Waters’ and TV series like ‘Zero Calling 2’. Her acting prowess fervently displayed on the blockbuster ‘The Pupil’ has earned her a Best Award nomination for 2010 Asian Television Awards. And she’s not to be shortchanged for her spectacular performance in the theatre scene as well — with her nabbing the Life! Theatre Award for Best Actress nominations for her roles in ‘Optic Trilogy’, ‘Rabbit Hole’, ‘Hitting (on) Women’ and ‘One Flea Spare’.
Poised, sensible and with no dramatic ‘scandal’-like baggage to boot, the high achiever lets Dr. Chen in on her decision to take the road less travelled and dabble in Theatre studies. From her epiphany on the shortcomings of the local art scene, how she started out working in the local theatre luminaries in the 90s’, to recalling the challenging episodes encountered as an administrator, the book is detailed with Janice’s accounts on “raising issues which needed to be heard”.
Janice found that being female actually gave her an edge during her time in Parliament, “I think that women have a certain way of achieving their goals and objectives that are different from men. We have a different approach to communicating and listening. I am not saying men can’t do it; it’s just a different touch.” Amen to that, Janice — we hear you loud and clear.
"Most of us have grown up being inspired by a role model. Women inspiring other women - it's very important [to me]. You can get the confidence to do something when you see that other women have been able to do it,” Odile Benjamin said to us, ever so tactfully. And by all odds, we’re sure she has and will continue to inspire women the world over with her numerous accomplishments and her experience with overcoming breast cancer.
For a start, one would simply have to look at Odile Benjamin for the epitome of an internationally acclaimed elite in the fashion industry. She’s the Divisional CEO and Co-Creative Director in F J Benjamin Holdings LTD — an industry leader in brand building and management across Asia with brands like Celine, Givenchy, Loewe, Marc Jacobs and GAP falling under its umbrella. More notably, she’s known for being the Creative Director of the Singapore-borned fashion label Raoul, which was a favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton and has dressed the likes of Zhang Ziyi and Viola Davis.
Driving the author to tears as she shared on the horrors of her childhood in war-torn Lebanon, the loss ofher beloved father Raoul Mizrahi, her ongoing battle with Lupus, and her searing fight with breast cancer. Having undergone a mastectomy, she said to Dr. Chen, “I felt like my body and I were mutilated. There is no other word for it as I was slashed, cut and it was brutal… Having gone through this is probably one of the most humbling experiences in my life.”
Adding on to aftermath of the procedure, she said, “On days that I feel that things are not right, I try to take myself out of my body and look at it from the outside. I would pretend as if I was talking to my best friends and I know that this would not affect that way I feel about them. Would I see them as less of a person or would I think of them as courageous? This is how I talk to myself and beef up my own self-esteem.”
Odile’s uncensored account on with painful battle with cancer was honest and inspiring, and we’re sure that other readers will sing the same tune as us. Not only is it reassuring to women who are undergoing the same procedure, it’s empowering to know that it is possible to bounce right back up after a glorified fight against imperilment.
Siow Lee Chin
Photo: Siow Lee-Chin
A violinist of great international repute. That is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing Siow Lee-Chin. She’s also a loving daughter who misses her late father (her first ever violin teacher), the writer of her own autobiography ‘From Clementi to Carnegie’, and a violin teacher. The masterful string-playing virtuoso may travel between time zones to perform for an immense assemblage now, but she’ll always be the same little Clementi girl at heart, taking with her a fervent Singaporean pride wherever she goes.
Lee-Chin, who now resides in the idyllic city of Charlestown, has accomplished many noteworthy milestones. Having been praised by the American Record Guide as “a distinguished cultural asset of international stature”, and The Strad as a “trailblazing role model for string players”, her career first took off after her Gold Medal victory at the 1994 Henryk Szeryng International Violin Competition. As Singapore’s first soloist on the classical stage, Lee-chin has wowed audiences in more than 20 countries across five continents from Carnegie Hall to Osaka Symphony Hall; an impressive feat for a young artist from Singapore back in her day.
Photo: Siow Lee-Chin
Wanting to turn her experiences into a source of positive inspiration for others, Lee-Chin also devotes herself to giving back by coaching talented students from all over the world.
In the book, she recounts the devastating downfalls she faced as an adult as well her early beginnings when she first started being enthralled by the consonance of classical music.
She even strikes up a critical notion on the tenacity of Singaporean artists, advising against the budding talents in her homeland to gravitate towards from the mass consensus just because they aren’t sure of something as intangible as the arts.
Unbowed by cancer and a horrific car accident which left her with a broken arm, the vivacious violinist has gone through many setbacks throughout the course of her life — but she has not let any of that stop her from bagging tonnes of accolades and climbing the proverbial ladder to success — nay, whatever it is that lies beyond success. Revealing to Dr. Chen a beautiful, vulnerable moment she shared with her passing dad at the hospital, Lee-Chin’s miraculous chronicle on the “power of music” moved us to tears. But we won’t divulge and spoil it for you (once you’ve gotten your copy, we’ll literally be on the same page).
Madonnas and Mavericks: Power women in Singapore, $32 before GST. Available at all Kinokuniya bookstores.