Cakap-Cakap: Interview with Anaïs López for The Migrant

In this month’s Cakap-Cakap (chit-chat), ArtsEquator speaks with visual artist Anaïs López about her multimedia exhibition The Migrant which is currently showing at the Chapel Gallery, Objectifs. Through audio, video, text and photography, López discusses migration, urbanisation and human-animal relationships through the character of the ubiquitous Javan mynah and its evolving place in Southeast Asia, from being a highly prized songbird to a pest and more.

The multimedia exhibition is framed within a fable-like narrative, while also incorporating perspectives from various groups ranging from political scientists to gun enthusiasts. The Migrant also exists in the form of a photobook, featuring comics by award-winning artist Sonny Liew. Selected panels from the book will be on display as well.

ArtsEquator (AE): In whatever way you like, please introduce yourself in your own words.

Anaïs López (AL): My name is Anaïs López and I’m a storyteller above all else. I use a small and intimate story to broach universal themes. I studied photography at the Royal Academy of Arts, but in recent years photography has become a means to an end, and not the goal itself. My projects are the result of extensive research and that research forms an integral part of the projects. I try to use innovative ways to get my stories across and actively look for new podiums and presentation forms for these projects. I also believe very strongly in cooperating with other artists to make my projects even better.

AE: How are you doing at the moment? Could you describe your current state of mind?

AL: Like everybody else I’m struggling with the effects the coronavirus has on society. I’m a social person and miss my colleagues. But on the other hand it’s a great opportunity for reflection and has also inspired a new project that I’m working on right now.

AE: The show involves a narrative involving the Javan mynah – what about this creature fascinated you, that prompted you to build a story around it?

AL: In 2012 I was in Singapore for the first time. I was there for a Magnum mentorship workshop and to edit an earlier project. The first night in Singapore, a bird woke me up. It was the Mynah. When I went outside he was waiting for me. I was immediately fascinated by the Mynah. They are quite unique, they walk with their chest up, are not afraid of people, they behave like humans and they can even imitate human speech. That was the beginning of this project.

Photo Credit: Anaïs López

AE: The exhibition is titled The Migrant, which has multiple resonances here in Singapore, as well as globally. What were your thoughts in choosing this as a title and/or provocation, and has that evolved in any way in 2021?

AL: The choice for this title was a very conscious one. The Mynah serves as a metaphor for how we treat the other. His story is comparable to the story of many (human) migrants, who are loved at first but hated later on.

AE: The exhibition involves interviews with different groups of people such as biologists and gun enthusiasts. What was something you learnt in an interview that was particularly fascinating?

AL: I was flabbergasted to hear that Mr. D, a former member of the Singapore Gun Club, had a well thought-out plan to exterminate all the Mynahs and all the crows in Singapore, but was also a devout Buddhist. That was such a contradiction in my mind, I just could not understand that.

AE: The Migrant has taken multiple forms – a book, videos, even an app. How and why did you conceive of these multiple forms, and how does this multimedia exhibition at Objectifs differ from past iterations?

AL: The exhibition at Objectifs is the same as the one that was shown at the Dutch Photography Museum in Rotterdam. It’s a travelling exhibition that will also feature in Jakarta (Indonesia), Guernsey (UK) and Mannheim (Germany). The choice for the multiple different forms came organically. We chose to make an app because we wanted to reach a new audience with this presentation form. The book was made primarily to do live performances. But the performances created so much demand for the book that I decided to also make an edition of the book that people could buy.

The Migrant has also been published as a photo book, which features comics by Singaporean comic artist Sonny Liew (The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye).  Some of these panels will be on display in the Singapore exhibition at Objectifs as well. Image Credit: Sonny Liew

AE: Does holding this exhibition in Singapore give it a different resonance?

AL: I have always wanted to bring the story back to its birthplace. The Migrant touches on general themes that resonate with people all over the world, but even more so in Singapore, as that is where most of the story takes place. That’s why I’m so excited that the exhibition is showing at the Objectifs right now.

AE: Outside of this exhibition, what are you currently interested/obsessed with, and why?

AL: I’m obsessed with my grandmother and a golden turtle… Let me explain that. The coronavirus crisis was the spark to start investigating what happened to my grandmother, who left the Netherlands right after World War II, leaving behind two infants and her husband, and was never heard from again. I’m also very busy finishing a project about a golden turtle, the goddess of the Kamogawa river in Kyoto (Japan). It’s a project I’ve been working on for a few years now and I can’t wait to go back to Japan to photograph it some more.

AE: What is a question you’ve been asking yourself recently?

AL: “Does a one day fly actually live for just one day?” Believe it or not, one day flies are an important part of my Japan project. And I’m now officially obsessed with them.

AE: Complete this sentence: 2021 is a year of….

AL: Two faces. Right now everything is cold and grey, but I expect that after everyone has gotten their vaccinations, we will party like it’s the Roaring Twenties!

The Migrant is on from now till 30 May 2021 at Chapel Gallery, Objectifs. Admission is free. Find out more here. 

Sonny Liew will be participating in an online panel discussion (free admission) on 19 May with Anaïs López and project producer Eefje Blankevoort. They will share their experiences working on cross-media projects, with a focus on their collaboration for The Migrant.

Objectifs will also be hosting a project sharing session on 20 May with Anaïs, Eefj and six Singapore artists working in cross-media projects involving photography. The session will be broadcast online, with free admission.

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