MA JIE (2016)
From the 1930s to the 1970s, a wave of female migrants, many from the Guangdong province of China, came to Singapore to seek work as domestic servants. They were known as amah, which is a translation of a Mandarin term meaning mother, and often served in expatriate or wealthy families. Going against patriarchal norms, these women were the breadwinners of their families back in China. Many never married, instead dedicating their lives to their work. Some of the amah took a vow of celibacy to signify their commitment. These amah were known as ma jie.
The amah served in households in Singapore until foreign domestic workers replaced this labour in the 1980s. There are few left; many have since passed away or have returned to China. A small number, in their eighties and nineties, continues to live quietly in Chinatown's rental flats.
An initiative of the National Arts Council, Pop-up Noise: Soul-searching commissioned various artists to engage with the Chinatown community and produce an artistic response. The resulting exhibition and programme was organised within Chinatown itself, drawing an engaged local audience.