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  • Writer's pictureDan Koh

on hampshire road



today's 718 days – nearly two years – since migrant-worker dormitories were gazetted as “isolation areas”. around 300,000 men are still under lockdown, banned from mixing with "the community", as the $ingapore government terms non-dormitory, non-visiting residents. this means these labourers are transported to work on the back of life-threatening lorries, then straight back from the construction site or shipyard to their overcrowded, remote dorms. their one off day a week is spent here too.

in the video "Hampshire Road" (2019) by Min-Wei Ting, a camera tracks and bobs across the "cage-like" barricades of a bus terminal in Little India, from left to right. from gaudy emptiness exposed by overhead, overpowering fluorescent lights (the better to see you with, and for you to know you're being seen), a few men, then so many, are captured from the bay of the bus they're waiting for. they carry groceries for the week ahead, bound by untrusting stores in cables ties; some sit on the floor, resting, exhausted, forever waiting and wasting; hands hold on to the fence, which is at eye level and thus completely useless except for panopticon effect; faces confront the camera at uncomfortably close length, glaring, confused, tired, used to being looked at by the state and all its actors (you and me).

the grand reveal (if any) to me isn't the outsized carceral forces at the end (the ones so easily humiliated in the so-called Little India Riots), but the darkness and emptiness of Sate Kelinci Pak, the park at the junction of Northumberland Road and Hampshire Road. here is where low-wage south asian migrants, particulary bengali, used to gather every sunday, eating and drinking, sending money home, just being. it's one spot of relative freedom (which, of course, the state must label with a sign indicating "fun") in the past, when freedom of movement – even just walking down a road, and looking, regarding, seeing and being seen – was still something migrants could have.

first shown as part of the Berlin Art Prize 2019 nominees' show, "Hampshire Road" ends its streaming on Vdrome, as introduced by Christie Cheng, today: vdrome.org/min-wei-ting

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