Malaria victims in Asia are usually poor, isolated and voiceless. It’s as if these people don’t truly exist.
However, the situation there is steadily improving, with the help of Singaporean photographer Pearl Gan.
As part of her effort to raise awareness and educate people about the dangers of malaria, Pearl has teamed up with professor J. Kevin Baird of the Eijkman Oxford Clinical Research Unit (EOCRU) in Jakarta, Indonesia, to hold a photo exhibition entitled “Asia Malaria Images ”.
The exhibition, which includes exclusive photographs by Pearl, will run from 2–29 September 2017 at the National Library Board, Singapore.
First proposed in September 2015, the exhibition is supported by partners such as the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, The Wellcome Trust and the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance.
Through the exhibition, Baird and Pearl hope to put a human face on the disease, so that a deeper connection and impact can be felt within the community. Their goal is to eventually stamp out malaria in the region.
“It’s not all about people suffering. It’s also about people living in the malaria endemic zones,” Pearl explained. “It’s also about the medical people helping to relieve their pain; the community, their environment.”
The set of almost 50 images in the exhibition is a culmination of photos taken during three trips – to Mae Sot, Thailand; Alor Island, Indonesia; and Pailin, Cambodia. They include many portraits – Pearl’s preference in her efforts to photo-document her journeys.
“It’s all about communication. I love talking to people,” she said. “And to me, photo-taking
is not just about that snapshot, but a way to communicate with the locals and the viewer.”
With the help of local translators and renowned malaria researchers such as professor François H. Nosten of the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU), Pearl has compiled visual vignettes that speak clearly of the habitat and victims of malaria.
Recalling one of her more memorable encounters, during an un-planned hospital stop, Pearl said: “When I went into the [hospital] room, straightaway a face captured my attention. It turned out to be the 10-year-old girl that was mentioned as having malaria.”
“Sometimes you find faces that capture your attention, and that photo is so important to me.”
As one peruses her many photos, the contrast of vulnerability against a vibrant environment is telling of how much potential is being drained from these victims, as they struggle against their disease.
Pearl clearly recognises how her subjects have contributed to her story and her cause.
So, in December 2016, she travelled back to Mae Sot to both celebrate SMRU’s 30th anniversary and to hold a small exhibition, gifting her subjects with the pictures that she had taken of them. This included a portrait of a mother and child that has been featured on the cover of the 2015 annual report for Medicines for Malaria Ventures.
The visceral image of the mother clad in vibrant orange, her head wrapped in a bright pink headscarf, and holding her newborn, showcases both the frailty and strength of hope.
On a personal note, Pearl’s photo project has piqued her interest in malaria – to the point of enrolling in microscopy courses to further her understanding of the illness.
Pearl’s dedication to increasing awareness of malaria in the region is clear.
Summarising, she said, “I hope that you will feel what you see [in the photo exhibition]. The joy and suffering. The people in the region.”
She also hopes that those with financial means will “help the community around them”.
For more information about the exhibition visit www.asiamalariaimages.com
All photos: Pearl Gan