In keeping with the ongoing SG50 Spirit, a Photo Book by British Photographer Tom Soper was released last evening at the National Library Building on Level 16 at The Pod, with glitz and glamour. The Photo Book features 50 distinct portraits of expatriates from 50 distinct countries who call Singapore home. The contributors featured were as diverse from a Danish Triathlete cum Lawyer to a Kazakh Harpist with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. The expatriates were from very small countries to India. The photo book was alphabetically nomenclature from A to Z and neatly packed in 50 amazing human narratives. The spectrum of profiles was rich and effort was put by the author was intense in order to capture stories, not easily seen or heard in the mainstream media. One such story was my friend Mr. AKM Mohsin, the Editor and Publisher of Banglar Kantha, representing Bangladesh. Banglar Kantha is the only Bengali Language Newspaper in South East Asia and serves as a platform for migrant literature and culture tucked away at a prominent intersection in the Little India area.
The evening was rainy and humid in Bugis when the evening kicked off as we moved in the elevator to Level 16 escorted by a Ethos Book Staff (the publishing company) who was rather curious to know in which language I was chatting away. I was speaking in Bengali. We entered The Pod and to our surprise,welcomed with a goody bag, and some bruschetta and white wine, which confirmed the comfy, high society milieu of the book launch.
Tom Soper, the author was smartly dressed in a suit despite his jet lag from London, having landed in Singapore the same afternoon. He seemed to be chatty, trying his best not to show nerves. A few of the guests, purchased copies and I was delighted to have it autographed by Tom addressed to my wife and me.
There were a few contributors of the book present at the Book launch, making the setting for this rarified evening rather cozy affair. After a few rounds of drinks, the packed seminar room aggregated to fill the seats as the formal event kicked off with the Publisher of Ethos Books introducing the concept and the struggles of printing such a novel work. Tom spoke after that thanking everyone behind the book and explaining his side of the creative challenges and the vision behind the book. He thanked his house help for helping out his family so that he could have the time to dedicate to the book project. A rare moment of humility in the rather narcissistic world of competitive art.
The Q&A session was lively as it touched upon issues of artistic dissonance.
One of the audience was pertinent; Why are all the portraits of the same socioeconomic strata?
Tom, acknowledged that there is a paucity in the diversity as far as the socioeconomic strata in general in the book, but he had featured a domestic help from the Philippines.
Mr. AKM Mohsin was specially mentioned for his activism with the Bangladeshi Migrant Community in Singapore.
Tom has since moved back to the UK where is exploring a similar work in England celebrating the diversity of his forty thousand strong town in this zeitgeist of anti-migrant sentiment. As he said “Watch the Space”
An initiative which commends diversity in Singapore is simply worth acknowledging as Singapore has been a migration magnet over the centuries with people coming to this island to find their fortunes.As a migrant myself I can second the sentiment as Singapore has given me a voice, an identity to vouch for.
Photos Courtesy : Lopamudra Chakraborty Prasad