New festival on migrant labour and the arts

Indonesian domestic helper Lintang Panjer Sore started a library in Hong Kong to share books with other maids.
Indonesian domestic helper Lintang Panjer Sore started a library in Hong Kong to share books with other maids.PHOTO: GLOBAL MIGRANT FESTIVAL

From factory-worker poets to libraries for foreign maids, a new festival here this weekend aims to draw links among migration, labour and art around the world.

The Global Migrant Festival, held this Saturday and Sunday at various locations, brings together an international slate of writers and artists who are of low-wage migrant backgrounds or whose work revolves around migration and refugees.

These include Chinese factory worker-turned-poet Zheng Xiaoqiong; Indonesian writer Lintang Panjer Sore, who set up a weekly library for fellow maids in Hong Kong; and Syrian poet Mwaffaq Al-Hajjar, who won Malaysia's Migrant and Refugee Poetry Competition last year.

Speaking and performing alongside them are foreign workers in Singapore such as Bangladeshi construction safety supervisor Md Sharif Uddin, who earlier this year won Best Non-Fiction title at the Singapore Book Awards for his memoir Stranger To Myself.

The event is organised by a group of volunteers led by management consultant and writer Shivaji Das.

Malaysian photojournalist Samsul Said, 35, who won this year's Sony World Photography Awards in the Professional Current Affairs and News category, will present his work documenting Rohingya refugee camps. "The world must know about this story. They are suffering and need help from people outside," he says in an e-mail.

  • VIEW IT / GLOBAL MIGRANT FESTIVAL

  • WHERE: Various locations, including National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrews Road; The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane; and Singapore Book Council, 03-32, Block E, Goodman Arts Centre, 90 Goodman Road

    WHEN: Saturday and Sunday,  various timings

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: Go to www.globalmigrantfestival.com

The event, which is intended to be biennial, coincides with the finals of the annual Migrant Worker Poetry Competition on Sunday, now in its fifth year.

Zheng, 38, says in an e-mail that she plans to speak here about how the voices of low-wage labourers should not be forgotten.

The author of more than 10 poetry collections left rural Sichuan in 2001 to work in a factory in Guangdong. There, she put in more than 12 hours a day and wrote after work in a dormitory she shared with seven others.

She once penned a 7,000-word poem on the backs of unused receipts and was caught by a supervisor, who fined her three days' wages. Still, she persisted. "Writing in the cracks of my life, poetry became the lush greenery of my lonely days in a foreign place," she says.

For Lintang, who has been a maid in Hong Kong for nine years, reading is a vital pastime.

She started a library with 18 books of her own in 2011 for maids, which she runs out of a suitcase under a bridge in Victoria Park on Sundays. With donations, the library grew to 1,000 books. Migrant workers can take books back and return them a week or two later.

"I just want to share what I'm reading with my friends and other people," says the 35-year-old over WhatsApp.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2018, with the headline 'New festival on migrant labour and the arts'. Print Edition | Subscribe