Pontianak is a female hantu who died during childbirth or while pregnant. While there are many variations to the story, she is usually depicted as a long-haired woman dressed in white, using her beauty and sweet frangipani fragrance to lure men. Once her prey is trapped, she reveals her true form and avenges herself by eating their organs. During the day, it is said that she resides in banana trees.
Masters’ Thesis
Parsons School of Design

MS Design & Urban Ecologies

The Pontianak, a spirit of a woman who died in childbirth and resides in banana trees, is a prevalent figure in Southeast Asian folklore, embodying themes of trauma and vengeance.

Her entangled world of hantu, plants, animals, nonhuman and human creatures beckons us to rethink colonial modernity and its exploitative ideology. With the escalating environmental degradation occurring with mass deforestation across the Malay peninsula, the threat of ecological collapse has emerged as a form of retributive haunting. Across Southeast Asia, horror is an urban reality that materializes within the anxieties of people experiencing a sense of constant defamiliarization upon the wake of rapid development.

This project engages with the Pontianak's representation across various media, including cinema, literature, and art, to unpack the figure's enduring appeal and the socio-cultural anxieties it manifests. 

Urban Horror & Hauntology

By tracing the Pontianak's evolution from a colonial era cinematic icon to a contemporary symbol of resistance, the study highlights how these narratives challenge traditional gender roles and reflect broader ecological and historical concerns. The research utilizes Derridean hauntology and Erin Y Huang’s conception of urban horror as theoretical frameworks that engage with how past injustices continue to impact present conditions, to analyze the intersections of ecological and feminist issues.

This approach not only underscores the ongoing relevance of the Pontianak in expressing regional anxieties about modernity and development but also promotes a transformative vision of justice that integrates decolonial and ecofeminist perspectives.

Antibody: Anthology of Urban Horrors

Drawing from principles of unjuk rasa, the project pushes towards a material action that critiques modern, masculine, positivist knowledge.

Antibody is an anthology of urban horrors, a form of resistance against the violence of modernization. Bringing together friends in collective practice and thought, it focuses on decentering the human body and welcomes people to think and create through the spectral.

自梳女 (zi shu nü), or “self-combed” women, are collectives of Chinese women from Guangdong province who vow themselves to celibacy and singlehood. “Self-combing” refers to the subversion of a Chinese marriage ritual where a bride would have her hair combed into a bun by the eldest female member of the family; an act representing blessing, harmony and health. 
Graphic Novel: Self-Combed

The production of a graphic novel aims to develop a visual output that weaves theory, narratives and critique into an accessible medium through storytelling. Departing from the atomistic, individualistic model of the self and the nuclear family, the graphic novel focuses on a group of women deemed to social and cultural pollutants. In retelling their stories in relation to the current state of female domestic labor, the graphic novel puts into practice the theoretical framework that is introduced in this paper.

This speculative non-fiction explores the politics of anticolonialism, feminized labor and urban horror by weaving together pieces of historical events and folklore. Based on accounts in national archives, anthropological studies and personal blogs, the narrative was formed by piecing together fragments of diverse accounts to develop a speculative retelling of real-world events, places and people.