SINGAPORE – From factory worker poets to libraries for foreign domestic helpers, a new festival this weekend aims to draw links among migration, labour and art around the world.

The Global Migrant Festival, which runs from Saturday (Dec 15) to Sunday at locations including National Gallery Singapore and The Arts House, 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 her fellow domestic workers 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 festival is organised by a group of volunteers led by management consultant and writer Shivaji Das.

Malaysian photojournalist Samsul Said, the winner of this year’s Sony World Photography Awards in the Professional Current Affairs and News category, will be presenting his work documenting Rohingya refugee camps. “The world must know about this story,” says the 35-year-old over e-mail. “They are suffering and need help from people outside.”

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

Zheng, 38, writes in Chinese over e-mail that she plans to speak at the festival 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 move to a factory in Dongguan, Guangdong province. There, she worked more than 12 hours a day and wrote after hours in her bunk bed in a dormitory room she shared with seven others.

Once, she 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 land,” she says.

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

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

“As a human, I just want to share what I’m reading with my friends and other people,” says the 35-year-old over WhatsApp.


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

WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, various timings



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