I went for the opening reception of the M1 Fringe Festival, having blurbed about it for CNNGo’s “15 reasons to visit Singapore in 2011”. The opening reception also coincided with Another Me: Transformations From Pain to Power by Achinto Bhadra.
For this exhibition, the documentary photographer from Kolkata created personas for the girls of Sanlaap’s Sneha Girls Shelter. So much so that at first glance, it was a collection of girls who adopt fantastic personalities replete with colourful masks, painted faces, and costumes.
But it’s not playtime; it’s catharsis.
A Village Girl
“Because…I want to be the way I was before, without any traces of what I’ve experienced. I want people to love me and accept me because I am just like them.”
Explanation accompanying the above Image
The girls, aged eight to twenty-five years old, are survivors of trafficking, rape or abandonment, or are the children of sex workers. Each one had a poignant story to tell, but none dared to tell unless they were safely behind veils, masks, or painted faces.
The girls were dissatisfied and angry at their lot. And it showed in the images and in their choice of personas: warrior-goddess Durga who smites her enemies; goddess Lakshmi who protects her worshippers from misery and money-related woes; and villagers.
The costumes and make-up were created by the girls and women with the artistic guidance of the photographer. The photography sessions were conducted in ritualistic silence.
As each girl and woman stood before the camera in the silent studio, she transformed into “another me”. The aggressive ones quieted down, the depressed raised their heads, tears of release flowed. For a moment, each felt the power within herself. And today, many months later, that brief transformation remains an inner source of confidence and strength for the girls and women in Sanlaap’s care.
Another Me is a stark and moving photo exhibition. It’s worth a trip up to ION Orchard’s Art Gallery, and I left longing to know more about the girls and their stories.