An exhibition chronicling the journeys of Philippine workers opened on Thursday in Taipei’s Songshan Cultural and Creative Park.
The exhibition, titled “Turning Point: Taiwan,” features about 300 photographs depicting the hometowns and working environments of migrant workers, as well as pieces of clothing.
One of the highlights is a collection of about 30 photographs taken by Joan Pabona, a prize-winning photographer and former domestic helper.
Born in the Philippines’ La Union province, Pabona in 2008 went to Singapore to work as a domestic helper, before moving to Hong Kong in 2013.
In 2017, she won second place in the National Geographic Wheelock Properties Youth Photo Competition for her photograph titled Sacrifice.
The black-and-white image, which Pabona took while cleaning windows, shows an aerial view of a worker in a hard hat among safety nets used in scaffolding.
“I felt a connection to the scene, because that person was working so hard to give a greener pasture to his or her family,” she said at the exhibition on Sunday.
Pabona was in Taipei to talk about her work and give a photography workshop.
However, it was one of her prior photos, titled Solitude, shot in 2016 in Hong Kong, depicting a woman sitting alone in the dark next to a beam of light, that inspired her to pursue photography, Pabona said.
“During that period, I asked myself what my purpose in life was, because as a domestic worker busy with work, I realized that I was so lonely,” she said. “So through photography, I wanted to show the emotions and feelings of a migrant worker.”
Pabona eventually quit her job a domestic helper and is now a full-time photographer based in La Union.
Another highlight of the exhibition is Philippines-inspired clothing made by Philippine factory worker Mark Lester Reyes, who lives in Taoyuan.
Reyes said he sustained chemical burns to his face and body in a work accident in March 2014, and started using makeup to conceal his scars.
After a while, people started to ask him for advice on makeup for fashion shows and events, which led him to discover his talent for sewing, he said.
“I asked my friends who were competing in [fashion] contests that if I could also make their costumes, which they agreed to,” Reyes said, adding that he took a vocational course in visual arts in high school.
His creations, which use recycled materials discarded by factories, quickly became famous in the Filipino community, Reyes said.
His gowns were showcased at celebrations for the 120th anniversary of the Philippines’ independence last year in New Taipei City, he said.
“I want to showcase and represent Filipinos in Taiwan,” he said.
The exhibition was organized by the non-governmental organization One-Forty, which was established in 2015 to focus on vocational training for migrant workers in Taiwan to give them skills they need in their home countries after they finish working in Taiwan.
A total of 6,279 people have visited the exhibition since its opening, One-Forty said.
The exhibition is to run through tomorrow and admission is free, it said.