About two years back, filmmaker and photographer Bernice Chauly managed to convince the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide access to this “invisible” population in Malaysia. The results of her endeavour had been exhibited at Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC) from 14 July to 7 August 2005 in an exhibition titled “Face to Face – Confronting the Humanity of Refugees in Malaysia”.
Defining her passion as “concerned photography”, Chauly studied Education in Canada before returning to Kuala Lumpur with a singular commitment to photograph her country. Her previous projects include documenting Malaysia’s dying art forms, displacement of indigenous peoples, poverty and women in prisons.
When asked about her artistic approach to the project, Chauly replied: “I decided consciously to shoot black-and-white, in line with my purist outlook on photography. During the project, I took on a humanistic point-of-view rather than that of a journalist or an observer. As someone who was willing to listen, I didn’t have to ask many questions before the refugees started telling me their stories. Portraiture is the discipline that I have employed consistently for the project. I want to look at their faces without filters or flash. Utilizing the context and space of their environment, I took portraits of everyone. There was once when all 70 people living in a room was literally queuing up to have their pictures taken. In terms of classical photography, portraiture is one of the hardest things to do. I just love the human face. The human face is like a map of everything that has happened to the person. Of course, I also took pictures of their living conditions. But there were situations when it was impossible to do so. Photographing the refugees outside the comfort zone of their living spaces is to put them at risk. They were also groups that were not willing to be photographed. One particular group of Muslim Rohingyas [from Myanmar] was very angry with TV3 (a local channel in Malaysia) when they did a report on them and disclosed their location.”
[ Image courtesy of Bernice Chauly/UNHCR ]