“My Extra Special Auntie”
One of the fantastic results of creating "The Helper" documentary was that I got to meet lots of interesting and dynamic people working in the migrant worker rights space. The NGO Enrich (featured in the documentary) had organised a screening of the film as part of an opening event to celebrate an art installation they comissioned entitled "Beyond Myself" with artwork by members of migrant domestic workers artists collective Guhit Kalay created in conjunction with Goldsmiths College, London.
I was lucky enough to be on a Q&A panel before the film screening with one of the artists exhibiting as part of the show, Cristina Cayat and we continued talking after the panel as she showed me around the exhibition that she and her fellow artists had created. I was really impressed with their diverse talents and the insightful creativity displayed in the work.
Chatting to Cristina I remembered an idea I'd had a while ago. One of my regrets with "The Helper" was that the film was unsuitable for children under the age of 11 (both because of duration and content) and so we'd really missed out on taking the film's message to the next generation of potential employers of migrant domestic workers. Given the support the film had received from schools throughout Hong Kong, I had always wondered if there might be another way to reach that audience...
The idea of creating a children's picture book that she and her cohorts would illustrate came up, and we agreed to meet to discuss the potential project...
A couple of weeks later on a Sunday afternoon, the six founding members of the group Guhit Kalay were in my office with me chatting. We talked about the major issues and difficulties they faced working for families in Hong Kong, and what they would want their young wards to know about them that they might no already be aware of.
Gradually the story's narrative began to flesh itself out; We wanted to explore the experiences of migrant domestic workers in a way that a child could understand, as the close bond between domestic workers and their wards is a unique and complex dynamic.
We felt it was important to clarify that the presence of a domestic workers within a family does not replace a parent, but that they are instead an affectionate paid employee and an individual with a family, dreams and financial goals of their own.
I got to work on a first draft of the story and the women began some initial concept artwork.
We met again on a Sunday a few weeks later (the artists one day off per week from their domestic worker jobs) and I presented my text to them, and took notes on their feedback, and they shared some initial sketches they had created.
This process continued over the course of many months and gradually refined itself down so that two of the artists took the lead on the illustrations.
Noemi Manguerra's talent as an artist was evident immediately, as she was able to create work in a huge range of mediums as shown in her immense body of work. But her instinctive illustration style became the obvious choice for our story, creating our family of characters in a very unique warm, style.
Cristina Cayat (who I had first met on the Q&A panel) took on the role of finishing and dressing the characters using her dynamic sense of colour and in-depth knowlege and passion for traditional Filipino textiles.
Over the course of a year or so, we met monthly to share progress, until finally we had a story with pictures to match and we compiled them together as a book. We also translated the text into traditional Chinese in order to be able to reach a local Hong Kong audience of readers.
We're currently in search of a publisher for the book, and were thrilled to recently be shortlisted for the Hong Kong Human Rights Art Prize.