Friday, October 23, 2009
“No Refuge” at the Central Market Annexe Gallery
I was at the Central Market Annexe on Tuesday evening for a photo exhibition on Burmese refugees in Malaysia. "No Refuge: Burmese Refugees in Malaysia", was presented by SUARAM and the Annexe Gallery. It runs from 15th to 25th October, 2009, and features the work of five photographers: Greg Constantine (USA), Halim Berbar (France), Rahman Roslan (Malaysia), Simon Wheatley (UK), and Zhuang Wubin (Singapore).
Artwork on display and for sale at the Central Market Annexe.
The Central Market Annexe looks clean, inviting and well-lit after the Central Market facelift. This place holds many memories for me. My buddy Sumita and I used to go clubbing in this area ten years ago. It stopped when I noticed many vagrants searching for food in the waste bins near Central Market. We started using our clubbing money to purchase food and beverage instead, which we would distribute to the vagrants sleeping on the sidewalks and park benches. It looks considerably cleaner here now, but maybe it's because it is still early in the evening.
The Annexe Gallery.
I inquired as to whether cameras would be allowed in the Gallery, and was informed that I may take photographs as long as they are not direct shots of the artwork. I can appreciate that, as the photographs remain the intellectual property of the photographers.
Faces filled with fear, despair, hope and grim determination stare back at me from the walls. There are over 60,000 Burmese refugees registered with UNHCR Malaysia right now. The Malaysian government perceives refugees to be economic migrants.
"The practice of granting asylum to people fleeing persecution in foreign lands is one of the earliest hallmarks of civilisation."
~ UNHCR website
The predicament of the refugees in Malaysia is not an easy topic to broach. The Government should understand that recognising the protection needs of the refugee population in Malaysia does not undermine our sovereignty and national security.
"The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native born. Love him as yourself."
~ Leviticus 19:34
The photographs speak not only of fear, sorrow and oppression, but also of courage, compassion, dignity and faith.
There are no ready solutions for those escaping persecution and threats to their life and freedom in their home country. Without a legislative framework, it is difficult to put into place any effective mechanism to protect vulnerable and marginalised communities.
For many refugees, resettlement is, in reality, out of reach. Resettlement countries will not acknowledge that certain groups and communities are favoured over others. The lives of the asylum-seekers who have been denied resettlement remain in limbo in Malaysia.
We have been blessed with so much in Malaysia. While there is no doubt that a sizable percentage of the Malaysian population agrees with the Prime Minister that the country cannot open its floodgates to undocumented migrants, it would be a positive step in the right direction for the country if the immigration and law enforcement authorities would honour the protection documents issued by the UNHCR.
I am glad to see that the Central Market Annexe is still the focal point of a vibrant, brave and progressive arts scene in the City, and that the management body is so supportive of citizens’ action and interest groups such as Food Not Bombs KL. It is delightful also to see how this modern annexe has so perfectly complemented Central Market. Our visits to the Central Market area are made all the richer for the Annexe.