By Tan Lee Kuen (writer and photographer/Malaysia)
Group exhibition on the lives and issues of migrant workers
Each year, 2.5 million workers from Asia leave their homes in search of jobs and better opportunities in other countries. In Hong Kong, migrant domestic workers are the island’s biggest minority group, while in Malaysia, large numbers of migrant workers are often found in construction, agriculture and services. Over time, labour migratory workers form large social groups in the foreign country, yet they are not integrated into society but often seen as ‘others’.
Afterwork is a major group exhibition exploring issues of class, race, labour and migration, mainly in this region. The exhibition at Ilham Gallery in Kuala Lumpur is presented in collaboration with Para Site, a contemporary art centre in Hong Kong. The exhibition, curated by Freya Chou, Cosmin Costinas, Inti Guerrero, and Qinyi Lim, includes artists of different practices from around the region about migrant issues.
Among the participating photography work are that by Alfredo Jaar, who visited Hong Kong in the early 1990s to document the plight of the Vietnamese boat people living in camps there. Two works emerged from the visit – Opening New Doors and Fading (Version 2). The former is a large photograph of the barbed-wire fence of a detention camp with the projected text ‘Opening New Doors’ in three languages; while the latter is a comment on the fading of lives and history as the C-type prints of the people living in these camps are eaten away by chemicals as they sit in anodised metal trays.
Xyza Cruz Bacani from the Philippines is a street photographer and a domestic worker in Hong Kong whose excellent monochromatic work has gained notice in international publications. Here, she presents a selection of work depicting her and other domestic workers experiences and of her surroundings, a place she’s called home for the last decade but to which she is still an outsider.
Sun Yuan and Peng Yu take a more direct jab at the fraught relations between employer and worker with Hong Kong Intervention. The artists had asked the domestic help to plant a fake grenade in the homes they worked in and take a photograph of the space, which was placed next to photographs of the respective help with their backs to the camera.
In a more classic documentary style, celebrated photographer Fan Ho had captured images of labour class, often poor recent immigrants from mainland China, in Hong Kong in the mid-20th century.
Melati Suryodarmo, an artist from Indonesia, captures her personal struggles as an immigrant in Germany in a performance where she repeatedly folds, piles and messes up a mass of clothes until she is exhausted. The performance was photographed and displayed at this exhibition.
Venue: Ilham Gallery, Menara Ilham 8, Persiaran KLCC, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Date: 18 December 2016 – 16 April 2017
Time: 11am-7pm, closed Mondays
Tan Lee Kuen
She is a writer and photographer from Malaysia. She is also the founder of Asia PaperCamera, an online project celebrating photography in Asia with stories and interviews.
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