An art exhibition starring the mynah bird
The ubiquitous mynah bird is the unsuspecting star of an art exhibition on themes of migration and belonging at the visual arts space Objectifs. (Photo: Anaïs López)

An art exhibition starring the mynah bird

For some, the mynah bird is a nuisance, making loud calls in the morning and interrupting people’s sleep. Dutch photographer Anaïs López however, views the common black songbird as a symbol of “the other” and she has made it the star of her recent art exhibition which explores the relationship between Man and the environment.

Her thought-provoking multimedia exhibition, The Migrant, traces the journey of a Javan mynah, and through it, examines issues of migration, identity, and belonging. The works in the exhibition blend audio, video, text and photography, and they invite audiences to consider the consequences of rapid urban development, and how a stranger can be made to feel unwelcome.

López, 39, tells us why she chose to dedicate her exhibition to the mynah, and the life lessons she learnt from the bird.

What inspired this project, The Migrant

I arrived in Singapore for the first time in 2012. I had come for a mentorship workshop to edit a photography project. On my first night in Singapore, a bird woke me up with its screeching, and it was none other than the mynah. My encounter with this fearless, black-feathered bird sparked my curiosity; I was immediately fascinated by it. It walks with its chest up, it is not afraid of people, and it is highly intelligent. That marked the beginning of this project.

Why do you associate the mynah with migration and sense of belonging?

The first time I read about mynahs was in a Singapore newspaper, and I was amazed that they were labelled “the new terrorist” in town. I dived into the archives of the National Library to find out everything about this specific species. It turns out that for decades, journalists have been using the bird as a metaphor to discuss topics in society such as migration.

I told my mother-in-law, a first-generation Spanish migrant in the Netherlands, about the mynah’s backstory, and when I was done, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and told me, “But that is my life story!” At that moment, I realised that perhaps many other people would also be able to relate to the mynahs’ story of being “the other.”

What personal lesson have you learnt from the bird?

The project opened my eyes to the suffering of animals as a consequence of human behaviour. The mynah is believed to call loudly in Singapore because new buildings are frequently being constructed, and the birds can’t hear each other’s calls, so they vocalise louder and make sharper calls.    

What do you hope people take away from the exhibition? 

I hope they will start thinking about how we treat immigrants and animals. I want to initiate a dialogue about this subject and get people thinking about it from a fresh perspective.

Learn more about The Migrant here.

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