Afterwork Reading Club

Logo by Natasha Gabriella Tontey

KUNCI is invited to take part in Hong Kong’s Migrant Domestic Workers Project–a new project of Para Site, a leading contemporary art institution in Hong Kong. KUNCI’s research culminates in the August launch of A Room of Their Own, a project which comprises different activities–reading groups, publications, and audio-book projects. As a start we conduct Afterwork Reading Club, a reading group of six sessions dedicated to the literature on modes of gendered migration. This event will be held in three locations: at Victoria Park (the main meeting point of the Indonesian migrant workers in Hongkong), in a center for domestic workers and in private housing. Focusing on the act of reading and writing prose, this reading group aims to study together the unruly aspects of migrant domestic workers’ life. The variety of locations reflects the how the subjects in this research construct relational spaces through their engagement with alternative ways of producing knowledge. A Room of Their Own looks at original and translated works by Indonesian writers such as Budi Darma, Nh. Dini, Umar Kayam, Afrizal Malna, among others as the object of study. The entire proceedings of the event series shall be published as a booklet which will be distributed across community settings.

Started from February 2015, we conducted a research on the life of the Indonesian migrant workers there. Since the beginning we aimed to focus on the production of writings by these migrant workers. These narratives are perhaps too common or general (thus they may sound uninteresting or unimportant), but if we care enough to peruse them, we may find the narratives of a universal problem in a pluri-singular perspective. Is it a migrant worker’s perspective? It could be, but more importantly, it could also present the perspective of a lover, a traveler, a devoted writer, a woman, a mother, an Indonesian. In other words, the spectrum of subjectivities in fiction is not limited or “domesticated” only to the identity of a worker.

Indeed the narratives produced by these writings not only indicate attempts to build “a room of one’s own” as Virginia Woolf said. But such room proves to be not only a spatial one, but also a temporal one. For many migrant workers, dwelling in Hong Kong, a place faraway from home, provides opportunities to be independent and have rooms and time for their own. But of course it is not something that could easily be possessed. Much of our thoughts are also inspired by Jacques Ranciere’s elaboration in The Proletarian Nights where he argues that the production of writings by the workers is a condition of displacement or dis-identification that should be considered as an important political action. For Ranciere, the act of writing performed by the workers could be seen as an attempt to shake the established division of labor, where the educated elites/capital owners appointed to do the intellectual jobs while the workers do the menial jobs.

Writing is a painful activity. A writer needs to be discipline and have a strong self-determination. Amidst the difficult condition, using any medium that feels most convenient with–a mobile phone or a piece of paper–the migrant workers continuously write nonetheless. To find pleasure in the predicament of writing, and indeed as Ranciere once said, finding pleasure in pain the very definition of certain form of aesthetic pleasure.

In developing this project, we want to offer the concept of “fiction” not only as an entry point to enter this particular site of struggle for recognition beyond their identity, but also as a working method and a structure of thinking. Here, what we mean by “fiction” is not only limited to fictional writings but also, following Kamala Visweswaran, “fiction” as a narrative strategy proposed to be a flexible framework that could show the subtle moments of struggle in the process of subjectivities construction.

We want to consider the production of fiction within the migrant workers as a site of knowledge production and accumulation, and here we aim to activate the disobedient epistemic culture within the migrant workers and shake the established concept of “intellectuality”. The activities in Afterwork Reading Club will be centred on the necessity to produce startegies to support the process of knowledge production.

It emphasises the necessity of reading with a non-productive gesture. In most cases, the consumption of books amongst migrant workers is still dominated with capitalist mode of consumption—for example self-help book, business tips or religious readings that eventually direct them to be a good and productive person that could fit in the society. We want to create a space and time for them to read and write for fun, and just for fun! As a so-called intellectual, perhaps we also forget to read aimlessly, as now we read book mainly to use it as a source of reference for our work. We want to think how to consume a book in the name of pleasure, which does not follow the form of consumptive pleasure in capitalist culture (which would only lead us to buy or eat capitalist goods). This space and time to be non-productive is a luxurious moment that is opressed by crazy working hours and also has diminished our ability to create a new political imagination.

For more information on the Hong Kong’s Migrant Domestic Workers Project at Para Site, read here .

To get the latest update on our Afterwork Reading Club, follow our activities here.


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