'Points Of Departure' photo series explores notions of memories

Juria Toramae's Shore Explorers, Sentosa Island (2015).

Juria Toramae's Shore Explorers, Sentosa Island (2015).

The exhibition was a way for photographer Juria Toramae, who has always led a nomadic lifestyle, to assimilate and root herself.

Have you ever had a sense of belonging? In your neighbourhood, your workplace or even your country. What memories have you built there and what happens when you move away, permanently?

What if you have never settled down in a place? What if the world around you changes so rapidly that suddenly you are a stranger in your own home?

These are the questions that spurred Singapore-based photographer Juria Toramae, 31, to explore the concepts of memories, places and feelings of attachment.

This theme is familiar to Juria since she has always led a nomadic lifestyle.

Juria stayed in Malaysia for 12 years before she moved to Singapore five years ago. During her stay in Kuala Lumpur, she was was actively involved in the performing arts scene as a playwright. She collaborated with Malaysian playwright Mark Beau de Silva and assisted him in the writing of two plays in 2008 – 8 Ways To Lighten The School Bag and Oh My God.

Rainbow nation: Thai photographer Juria Toramaes Once Upon A Picnic, Changi, which is part of her Points Of Departure exhibition in Singapore. Toramae, who used to live in Malaysia, weaves the forgotten and the unfamiliar to make the past less foreign in Points of Departure – a curation of photographs, stories and art installations documenting personal perspectives of places and ways of life.
Thai photographer Juria Toramae’s Once Upon A Picnic, Changi (2015), from her Points Of Departure exhibition in Singapore. The show is a curation of photographs, stories and art installations documenting personal perspectives of places and ways of life.

In Singapore, she picked up photography as a means to express herself. Juria pointed out that even as a playwright, she would first visualise the scene and only then conceptualise her visions into words. Finding herself in a new country once more, Juria began collecting archival images (from national libraries, vintage books, etc) to track down a sense of “home” and discovered that Singaporeans were also, interestingly, seeking the same thing.

“I realised that the people who are really into the memory project feel displaced, just like me. They can’t anchor their old memories anymore to the present landscape because everything is so different. There is a disconnection,” says the Thai national in a recent phone interview from Singapore.

“This is something very familiar to me. When I go back to those places that I considered home, everything is so different and it completely destroys my memory of that place,” she adds. The culmination of that is Juria’s Points Of Departure, an ongoing memory-skewed photographic series.

The exhibition, supported by the Singapore Memory Project and IRememberSG fund, will run until April 28 at The Promenade, National Library Building, Singapore.

It is an extension of Juria’s Temporality photographic series, which also explored similar notions of memories and belonging. It was part of NOISE Singapore’s The Apprenticeship Programme (TAP) in 2013. Points Of Departure features 22 works, accompanied by an audio-visual installation, which Juria created in collaboration with Singaporean Jerome Lim.

Juria Toramaes Sandcastles Before Hawksbill Hatchlings Emerge, East Coast Beach.
Sandcastles Before Hawksbill Hatchlings Emerge, East Coast Beach (2015).

Talking about the exhibition, Juria, who is of Thai-Moroccan parentage, points out that she was “driven by my desire to acculturate. Moving to Singapore, after 12 years in Malaysia, threw me off balance. I was in a foreign land again and I had to make it feel like home.”

Born in Rabat, Morocco, Juria, who is a patent engineer by profession, has had her fair share of uprooting and living in new places throughout her life. She counts Rabat, Cairo, Bangkok, southern Thailand, Kuala Lumpur, and now Singapore, close to her heart.

“I started by exploring the island-city and looking up people’s stories and old photos. I mapped the memories according to where they were made, so I could get to know those places better.”

Juria used archival photos from the 1940s to the 1990s, reaching as far back as British Malaya.

But it was the use of these photographs that also proved to be a challenge for Juria.

“The project requires the use of archival and family images and I need to get permission from people to create transformative work from it because I’m combining their picture with some stranger’s picture of the same place,” explains Juria.

“If they don’t allow that and think that I’m corrupting their memory, I can’t do it. I received a number of rejections, but there were also many who were very encouraging and wanted to contribute.”

Juria Toramaes Changi, Temporality (2013), one of the artworks from the first series which has been expanded into Points of Departure.
Changi, from the Temporality series (2013).

This is exactly what makes the exhibition interesting. Using the sea as a common thread, Juria combined pictures of various people taken at the beach or the sea, and what turned out, was stunning images of strangers grouped together as if in a family portrait.

One of the photographs shows children in their swim suits, building sandcastles along Singapore’s East Coast Beach. They may very well be siblings or friends, but in actuality, they are all strangers, now a family through a shared memory.

As for the project itself, Juria confesses that it was a way of getting closure.

“When I learn about people’s memories, I start to care about that place. It is a way of internalising or assimilation of culture. Otherwise, I will not be able to root myself.”

Points Of Departure runs until April 28 at the National Library Building in Singapore. Free admission. 

Juria Toramae , Points of Departure