Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Click Project: Seeing beyond labels

A photography exhibition seeks to bring visitors on a visual tour of social stigma.

"It's impossible to completely eradicate social stigma,” 20-year-old Jonathan Yip concedes some time into our interview. The statement does border on being overtly cynical coming from the young college student and freelance photographer, considering he's part of The Click Project – Who I Am, a photography exhibition and awareness campaign that seeks to highlight that very issue.

But Yip and his peers – Azizul Hadiyan Osman, Clifford Tan and Bryan Cheng – believe they can lessen the severity of social stigmas. Hence, their decision to highlight the topic as part of their final year project at IACT College. The Klang Valley natives are part of a team of 27 students who are collaborating with NGOs like Save One’s Sight Mission, Suria Society, 1stronghand, Sutra Dance Theatre and the National Cancer Society Malaysia to hold the exhibition.

Body image activist Tantiyana Sutan Shahril has empowered herself and manages the local bazaar Fat Is Fab.
Stevens Chan lost his sight to glaucoma seven years ago. He's the founder of the social enterprise Dialogue In The Dark, and Dogs For Sight, which champions a blind person's right to guide dogs in public places.
Paralympic athlete Daniel Lee is also featured in the exhibition.

Utilising the power of photography, the exhibition features two sides of a person living with a social stigma. The first picture, labelled What I Be, focuses on the negative perception that the person lives with. But the second photo, dubbed Who I Am, reveals the inspiring truth behind their physical image.

Paralympic athlete Daniel Lee, 20, was born with osteogenesis imperfecta (a form of brittle-bones disease) but that hasn't stopped him from pursuing sports. Stevens Chan, 52, who was blinded by glaucoma, founded the Malaysia Glaucoma Society and started the Dialogue In The Dark initiative that teaches sighted people what it means and feels like to be visually impaired. Both Lee and Chan are featured in the exhibition. 

All 20 of the featured black-and-white photographs were taken by Yip. Cheng was involved with the principal recording for a behind-the-scenes video of the project, while Tan assisted with the video production. As for Azizul, whose niece lives with autism, the aim of the project – raising awareness of social stigma and fighting it – is particularly special.

“I’ve seen the way she’s treated differently from other people. Those living with social stigma tend to be segregated in society,” says Azizul, who’s in charge of the project’s creative direction. On why they're tackling the matter through pictures, Azizul says, “An image has such a powerful impact, which is why we decided to illustrate the topic of social stigma through the series of photographs.”

Though social stigma is regarded as extreme disapproval of a person or group on socially characteristic grounds that are perceived from other members of a society, Yip has a simpler definition – putting a label on someone. He concurs that people are prone to passing judgement, but says the project allowed him to see beyond the labels and to get personally close to the people he photographed.

The young men hope that their exhibition will bring more awareness to the public about this serious problem and perhaps tear down some of those social stigmas. “We hope that those who visit the exhibition will get a sense of realisation that everyone has issues. But despite these issues, everyone has a story worth telling,” Tan concludes.

> 'The Click Project – Who I Am' starts tomorrow (Monday July 14) and runs until Saturday July 19 at The School in Jaya One, Jalan Universiti, Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Admission is free.

Tags / Keywords: social stigma , IACT College , photography , The Click Project , exhibition


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