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ALL WOMEN, ALL WALKS OF LIFE, ALL NATIONALITIES

... stories, adventures and all things related to life in Singapore and Southeast Asia by AWA members

A Portrait of Kindness: Elena Boyce

AWA Member Spotlight
Introduction by Lena Sharp
Photography by Elena Boyce

Elena Boyce has left the Little Red Dot a little brighter than when she first arrived - by shining a light on Singapore’s heritage crafts, especially those that are fading, through her outstanding gift of portrait photography. 


Whilst it’s not unusual for travelers to speak of the ‘kindness of strangers’ in a foreign land, Elena has reversed the cliché by bringing joy to the craftspeople of Singapore in telling their stories through the lens of her camera. 


In her four short years in Singapore - two of which were restricted by the pandemic - Elena entered the worlds of local artisans by walking the less trodden paths, from the back streets of Chinatown to Little India to Haji Lane, sometimes even relying on translators to get to know the craftsmen behind the crafts. 


Taking a genuine interest in their artistry, she crossed cultural barriers to unveil their almost forgotten worlds and to hear their untold stories before they can no longer be heard.  Out of a desire to preserve the memory of these vanishing trades, her project, Faces Behind The Makers was born. 


I had the privilege of getting to know Elena during the initial phase of this project. As she departs, her footprints will always remain in those places that were graced by the kindness of this beautiful stranger. 


Below is a snapshot of her photographic journey, best described in her own words:


Did you know much about Singapore before moving here?

I visited Singapore twice, once in 2000 and again 2008 – so I was aware how fast the city was changing. I was very excited to move there. I did not have any Singaporean friends and my understanding was primarily shaped by previous visits, literature and popular media. I was looking forward to embracing the new culture and experiencing new things.


What have you enjoyed most during your time here? What aspects of Singapore’s rich cultural heritage do you appreciate the most? 

I've found immense joy in exploring Singapore's diverse cultural heritage, which offers so many learning opportunities. As a photographer, this vibrant life has been inspirational. I deeply appreciate Singapore's efforts to preserve their heritage, and their openness in welcoming foreigners to engage in and learn about their culture.


What were your challenges? 

Navigating the pandemic was very challenging. Surprisingly, the limitations on gatherings provided the opportunity to gain deeper connections with the friends we made. It also offered more free time and a chance to spend quality moments with my husband and kids in Singapore. And I was able to start my new photography project Faces Behind the Makers.


Tell us about your Faces Behind the Makers project - how did you get started?

My project, Faces Behind the Makers began as an evolution from my prior photographic exhibitions, notably my solo showcase in France titled 'Cassis au dela des cliches’ (‘Cassis Beyond The Cliches’) where I unveiled the authentic lives of a coastal French town’s residents through 100 portraits. This exhibition and the accompanying book by the same title, 'Cassis Au-dela Des Cliches’, revealed a different perspective of the town's essence – from the viewpoint of the locals. 


Portrait photographer taking a photo of a potter in his studio in France
Elena Boyce at the workshop of a stone sculpture artist, Cassis, France

Upon arriving in Singapore, I had the pleasure of meeting Lena Sharp, a writer and contributor to the AWA Magazine, who shared some ideas with me and inspired me to learn more about Singaporean trades and craftsmen. Unlike my experiences in France, where I had substantial support and a clear exhibition plan, Faces Behind the Makers emerged without a predetermined endpoint. Despite uncertainties regarding exhibiting my work in Singapore, I embarked on a quest to document the untold stories of fading artisans and to capture local traditions and celebrations through my lens. Initially shared through publications like AWA Magazine, these photographs and accompanying interviews garnered notable interest, resonating with Singaporeans as well as expats.


(Readers please note that clicking on any of the following photos of a Maker will take you to that Maker's article.)


What inspired you most about the project and how has it enhanced your time in Singapore? 

What inspired me most about the project was the desire to unveil the faces hidden behind Singapore's modernity.  This journey allowed me to meet many remarkable, hardworking Singaporeans, and discover their craftsmanship and mastery in various vanishing trades. These artisans remain largely unseen, without sufficient support, facing commercial challenges and business closures. My project was guided by the insightful book Can Survive La by Margaret Sullivan, an American author I was fortunate to connect with. Almost all the trades profiled by Margaret no longer exist. I was fortunate to capture the essence of a few before they shut their doors forever. 



What life lessons have you learned? 

I've learned to accept life, people, and situations as they are. Being compassionate and patient has been vital, as is understanding that everyone has a unique life story that unfolds with time and trust.


When you were homesick or experiencing cultural frustrations, how did you cope? 

During moments of homesickness, I immersed myself in the beauty surrounding me. Whether it was cherishing time with my family and new friends, strolling through the Singapore Botanic Gardens, admiring modern architecture or quaint shophouses, exploring South East Asia’s textile traditions, or experiencing the warmth of Singaporeans' kindness, hospitality and friendship. 



What aspects of Singapore culture do you treasure most

I found that Singapore has so many layers of depth. I greatly treasure this depth and its spirituality essence. It is also remarkable to feel peace and harmony among its citizens, despite cultural, ethnic and religious diversity.


What did you do to meet people for friendships as an expat? What advice would you give first time expats? 

Being open to new friendships is important, and it is crucial to have many different circles of friends. The American Women's Association (AWA) was incredibly valuable to me. Additionally, my membership in Friends of the Museums offered many opportunities to discover interesting activities and meet new people. Naturally, through my photography project, I cultivated numerous friendships with individuals passionate about Singapore's heritage.



 


Lena Sharp is a freelance writer who was born in Singapore and resides in the United Kingdom.



Elena Boyce, a long-time expat in Singapore and France, began her "Faces Behind the Makers" to create awareness and revive an interest in Singapore's heritage trades. Find out more at

www.photoimpressia.com


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AWA members are women who come from many countries and life experiences but they all have one thing in common — they have chosen to live in Singapore. Some members are new to Singapore,  while some have been here a long time or have returned to Singapore after time away. Our magazine - written and curated by AWA members - focuses on a diverse range of topics including wellness and family, travel tips, cultural events and information, and other helpful tips around navigating and experiencing life in Singapore to it's fullest. 

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