Topophilia & Topophobia: A Tale of Two Cities (2016)

A Multi-Pronged Project with Migrant Workers in the City

(June-Sept 2016)

Initiated and Co-organized by

Su-Jan Yeo and Geraldine Kang

Project Partners

  • Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME)
  • The Kyt Studio

Project Sponsors

  • Fujifilm Asia Pacific Pte Ltd
  • LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics

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The city is where urban life, with and among others, are played out. Naturally, these human encounters—whether planned, spontaneous or fleeting—engender a wide spectrum of emotions and identity relations. In exploring the twin narratives of topophilia (love of place) and topophobia (fear of place), the project seeks to understand the emotive complexities of the city from the perspectives of migrant workers. This dual mode of knowledge production is achieved through a participatory method called ‘photovoice’.

Using photography as a tool of introspection and expression, migrant worker participants document their experiences and points of view as users of the city. During the workshop, participants are mentored on aspects of photography while also engaging in sharings about their works and the issues embedded within. These photographs are then installed as a collective tapestry of images for public exhibition.

Through the lenses of the participating migrant workers, the audience will gain access to the images of spaces and places in Singapore that resonate with the participants. More significantly, these images hint at the human emotions and encounters of contention and conflict as well as discovery and delight in these locales. The exhibition prompts the audience to question and reflect on whether migrant workers are equal users of the city—or, rather, if the city is indeed an equaliser.

As an extension to the exhibition, the public dialogue invigorates discourse on the notions of ‘social inclusion’ and ‘social justice’ vis-à-vis migrant workers in Singapore. The dialogue brings together advocates, artists, academics, migrant workers and other stakeholders for a conversation on migrant labour-welfare issues and the role of the arts as a catalyst for awareness-building. It is hoped that new networks and alliances will be formed through the exhibition and dialogue, thus sustaining the momentum needed to further positive changes towards an inclusive and just city for all.

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Not Just A Worker is an exhibition that brings together 79 photographs by seven migrant workers, all of whom are participants of the project Topophilia and Topophobia: A Tale of Two Cities. The project is based on the ‘photovoice’ method, where participants are mentored on aspects of photography while also engaging conversationally about the issues embedded in their works. In exploring the twin narratives of topophilia (love of place) and topophobia (fear of place), the project seeks to unveil the emotive complexities experienced by migrant identities. The knowledge of pleasant, poignant and ambivalent episodes are produced not only in the participants’ capacities as workers, but also as users of the city.

Presented as a continuous tapestry of ideas, the arrangement of the works takes cue from the fluid and static associations of identity that can arise with and in place. In this manner, the collective and individual voices of the participants coalesce, lending non-linearity and latitude to the show’s overall message. By having commentaries from the participants projected centrally on a screen, audiences are encouraged to shift back and forth between words and images, thereby engaging in a different and less direct way of reading photographs. More specific information about each individual participant’s body of work and insights on the workshop are included in the exhibition booklet.

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Photovoice Participants: Adhnan, Dave, Kamrul, Parvez, Rana, Shifullah, Sohag

Photovoice Photography Mentors: Jules Ang, Kee Ya Ting, Lee Cher Han, Hendry Poh

Video Documentors: Danial Juhari, Kee Ya Ting, Muhammed Ikhwan, Artania Raharso, Freda Seto Mie

Bengali Translators: Md Rashed Bhuyan, Karen McNamara

Bengali Typists: Naima Akter, Jit Biswas

Bengali Interpreter: Fizza Yousuf

Project Volunteers: Kenneth Tay, Daryl Yang

Exhibition/Dialogue Venue: The Substation

For press coverage on Post-Museum’s “Survey: Space, Sharing, Haunting” September 2016 programming at The Substation click here.