Life through the eyes of migrant workers

Indonesian domestic worker Ana Rohana’s photo of children playing with bubbles (above) and Bangladeshi worker Islam Mohammad Saiful’s picture of his lunch are among the 12 photos shortlisted for the Migrant Workers Photography Festival.
Indonesian domestic worker Ana Rohana’s photo of children playing with bubbles (above) and Bangladeshi worker Islam Mohammad Saiful’s picture of his lunch are among the 12 photos shortlisted for the Migrant Workers Photography Festival. PHOTO: ANA ROHANA, ISLAM MOHAMMAD SAIFUL
Indonesian domestic worker Ana Rohana’s photo of children playing with bubbles and Bangladeshi worker Islam Mohammad Saiful’s picture of his lunch (above) are among the 12 photos shortlisted for the Migrant Workers Photography Festival.
Indonesian domestic worker Ana Rohana’s photo of children playing with bubbles and Bangladeshi worker Islam Mohammad Saiful’s picture of his lunch (above) are among the 12 photos shortlisted for the Migrant Workers Photography Festival. PHOTO: ANA ROHANA, ISLAM MOHAMMAD SAIFUL

The first Migrant Workers Photography Festival is part of efforts to showcase foreign workers' photography here

Instagram is full of artistic shots of people's lunches, but not many of those look like Mr Islam Mohammad Saiful's.

The 26-year-old air-conditioning worker from Bangladesh photographed the packed lunch he gets at work: a sodden packet of rice, some side dishes in plastic bags and a bottle of water, his worn work gloves lying alongside them.

"Photography is my hobby," he says. "I want to show our lives as migrant workers in Singapore."

His photo is one of 12 shortlisted for the inaugural Migrant Workers Photography Festival, which will run as an exhibition from Thursday to Sept 15 at the Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film.

It is the latest step in a growing effort to showcase migrant workers' photography in Singapore.

The others include non-government organisation Aidha's annual Unspoken Life competition for foreign domestic workers, which began in 2016, and initiatives such as Parallel Paths and Project Synthesis, which in 2014 and 2015 gave disposable film cameras to workers and later collated the results into exhibitions.

The new festival, which is organised by a team of Singaporeans and foreign workers, received 118 submissions across three categories: Landscape and Nature; People and Culture; and Places and Architecture.

The results will be announced next Sunday and the winners will each receive a DSLR camera.

  • VIEW IT / MIGRANT WORKERS PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL 

  • WHERE: Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film, Lower Gallery, 155 Middle Road 

    WHEN: Thursday to Sept 15; Tuesdays to Saturdays, noon to 7pm; Sundays, noon to 4pm; closed on Mondays and public holidays 

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: E-mail mwpfsg@gmail.com

The judges for the competition include Filipina domestic worker Mayrhose Coronado, 34, who has been in Singapore for 10 years.

A self-taught photographer with an Instagram following of 22,700, she won Aidha's Unspoken Life competition last year and has led a photo walk for Apple Singapore.

As a judge, she will be looking for emotional authenticity in the submissions.

Ms Coronado says: "I believe that by showing our talents and other capabilities, we are able to break stereotypes and I am grateful that Singaporeans are more accepting and appreciative towards us."

Indonesian domestic worker Ana Rohana submitted a photo of children playing with bubbles at East Coast Park.

"There were so many emotions and colours, I just started to snap," says the 35-year-old, who took up photography in 2015 and spends her days off roaming Singapore, looking for the perfect shot.

Besides parks, heritage neighbourhoods such as Tiong Bahru and Chinatown, as well as Housing Board estates and wet markets are what she enjoys photographing.

"I don't expect to win," she says, with a laugh, "but I want to share what I know about photography with other foreign domestic workers. This has also given me the courage to explore more."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2019, with the headline 'Life through the eyes of migrant workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe