A Place To Call Home – Reflections from Sarah, a participating artist

October 16, 2018

On 13 October 2018, AWARE held a launch party for A Place To Call Home – a photo-essay exhibition by single-parent families. The exhibition is the powerful, heartfelt result of months of creative work by five individuals from single-parent families. Each artist generously opened up their homes and family lives in an effort to expand the national conversation about life in single-parent families, and challenge the restrictions and stereotypes they often face.

The party was a lovely, intimate affair with about a hundred supporters who showed up (despite the rainy Saturday afternoon) to check out the photos and essays which were originally produced at a workshop in June. Kicking off the event with a curatorial walkthrough, Nurul Huda, lead curator and facilitator for the photo essay workshop, talked the audience through the entire process, from conceptualisation to curation. She also emphasised that these stories are not something we, as the audience, are inherently entitled to; rather, they should be valued as something to honour, pay attention to, and take active steps to support and address.

The afternoon then flowed into an insightful – and at times emotional – discussion, led by Corinna Lim, Executive Director of AWARE, with the participants: Sherlin Giri, a widowed mother of two; Kate Moey, a divorced mother; Nursarah Safari, a 19-year-old undergraduate student; and Samara Joseph, the 12-year-old daughter of Sherlin. Guest-of-Honour, MP Rahayu Mahzam, shared her perspectives and experiences supporting single-parent families in her constituency, and talked about the need to improve the housing system so that fewer families fall through the cracks.

Read the following reflection piece by one of the artists, Nursarah Safari, on her experience participating in the workshop and rallying for fairer housing rules: 

A touching moment between Nursarah and her mother.

 I think I speak for everyone involved in the project when I say that ‘A Place To Call Home’ on Saturday was a polished and refined masterpiece that started not from an idea or a hope, but an impetus.

When I first signed up to be a part of this project in April, I honestly didn’t expect to drag myself out of bed on that cold Saturday morning, to show up for a workshop advocating for fairer housing policies for single-parent families on the other side of the country. I honestly didn’t think I would find myself at the Intermission Bar months later, speaking about my art or my life or the lives of those just like me.

But God knows I’m glad I did.

Coming from a single-parent family, I have felt like I was at a disadvantage compared to those around me who come from two-parent families – yet, it was only after immersing myself in a community of people with the same label that I realised how incredibly fortunate I am in comparison.

Hearing the stories of Sherlin and Samara, of Kate and Alena, was immensely humbling. These are women who have had to go through what I believe are losses and hurdles much, much more formidable than the ones I faced not just in securing housing, but with regards to every other difficulty universally encountered by others of our ilk. These are stories which should be at the forefront of the public eye, stories that, in years to come, should no longer be a commonality. To share an exhibition and a microphone with them, to speak of our experiences on behalf of our community, to witness the solidarity and courage permeating a room with an audience there to rally for this cause – to say that I was honoured is an understatement.

The exhibition was a critical step forward. It was humanising a problem dehumanised by numbers and complex bureaucratic processes. It put a real image – nay, images – to ‘95% of single mothers who sought public housing faced challenges’, and ‘single parenthood transitions can be very difficult for women and their children, materially and emotionally’, and every other statement one finds out there about this problem. It was not just an exhibition to motivate others. It was an impetus.

My hope, post-event, is that this topic, having left our lips, whistles loudly in the wind for everyone else to hear and wonder with widened eyes. Is their plight just? We don’t want your sympathy. We don’t want your “I’m so sorry to hear that” or your “Can I talk about my father/spouse in front of you?”. We want your signature on petitions and your voice out on the streets. We – just like everyone else – deserve the right to a home. It isn’t a battle we should have to fight, but we fight on, and we’re extending our shields and swords to you to fight with us.

This event would not have been possible without the support of and contributions by:

Alena Tan (participating artist)
Kate Moey (participating artist)
Nursarah Safari (participating artist)
Samara Joseph (participating artist)
Sherlin Giri (participating artist)
Nurul Huda Abdul Rashid (facilitator and co-curator)
MP Rahayu Mahzam (GOH and panelist)
Intermission Bar (venue sponsor)
FairPrice Foundation (event sponsor)

Thank you to everyone who donated and contributed their time, effort and stories – and everyone who came down to support the event.

A Place To Call Home will be showcased at Intermission Bar until 4 November 2018, after which AWARE will be working with members of the public to tour the exhibition to various community spaces around the island. Check out the photos from the launch party here. To get in touch with us for future collaborations, please write to Nabilah at media@aware.org.sg.