The Migrant

The Migrant

A small black bird with yellow legs, a prominent crest and a loud, raucous call: everyone in Singapore knows the Javan mynah. And many hate him. ‘The Migrant’ is a fantastical multimedia story about our relationship with animals, rapid urbanisation and our attempt to shape an ideal society.

This project is a collaboration with Prospektor, Fairytale, Heijdens Karwei and media partner Trouw & VPRO.

It is a webdocumentary, book, live performance, exhibition and radio documentary.

It was in Singapore in 2012 that photographer Anaïs López first encountered the Javan mynah, a small black bird with yellow legs, a prominent crest and a loud, raucous call. This incessant noise outside her hotel window first attracted her attention. Intrigued, she began to investigate and a project was born.

‘The Migrant’ tells the turbulent life story of the Javan mynah. A member of the starling family, the bird is originally from Java (Indonesia) and was introduced to Singapore in the early 20th century via the songbird trade. Today, the feathered friend is reviled, persecuted and even killed.

One of the reasons for this is its unique ability to mimic sounds. Following the Second World War, Singapore underwent rapid change, transforming in a matter of years from a rubber trading post to a modern metropolis. In an effort to compete with the urban noise, the mynah’s beautiful singing voice became a shrill screech. This did not fit the image Singapore wanted to present as the perfect city. ‘The Straits Times’, Singapore’s national newspaper, even described the mynah as ‘the new terrorist’, and, like a terrorist, the bird is almost universally hated.

‘The Migrant’ tells the remarkable life story of one bird, but at the same time it addresses broader themes such as the complex relationship between humans and animals, the consequences of rapid urbanisation and the position of the unwanted outsider. Using audio, video, text and photography, López takes you on a unique journey.

Trailer of the radio documentary: VPRO/OVT

‘Mynah’s story is being told with a dash of magic realism, so at first you think: is this real or am I being fooled?’

— Merel Bem, De Volkskrant

The book is designed by Teun van der Heijden. It contains silk screen prints, illustrations by renowned Singaporean cartoonist Sonny Liew and a handmade pop-up by artist Moon Brouwer. The book is a work of art in itself that can be used to share the story of the Javan Mynah with others. 

Specifications: 240 mm x 318 mm / 120 pages + booklet of 16 pages / full colour / English. 450 copies.

In a live performance – and with a monumental book as the centerpiece – Anaïs López takes her audience on an incredible journey. She tells a story about a little black bird with yellow legs, a wild crest and a sharp cry. Everybody in Singapore knows the Javan Myna, and everybody hates him. 

Photos © Fred Ernst

Golden Calf Best Interactive 2018 Nederlands Film Festival – Nominee
Winner of the Zilveren Camera award  
Winner of the Directors Guild award NL for best storytelling 2018
Webby Honoree in Video – Art & Experimental
Nominated for the Prix Pictet.

Best self-published book at Photo España 2019
Bronze medal for best book worldwide at the Leipzig Buchmesse.  
The Best Dutch Book Design 2018 – Stedelijk Museum 

Awarded the title of Master Storyteller by the Narrative journalism foundation. 



Photography, concept & research: Anaïs López
Creative producer: Eefje Blankevoort (Prospektor)
Project management: Laura Verduijn (Prospektor)
Graphic design: Kummer & Herrman
Film & web documentary
Direction: Anaïs López
Film & photography: Anaïs López
Interview: Eefje Blankevoort
Camera: Thomas Roebers
Scenario: Anaïs López, Eefje Blankevoort, Laura Stek
Editing: Thomas Vroege
Music and sound design: Darius Timmer
Interactive concept: Fairytale

Radio documentary
Laura Stek & VPRO

Graphic design: Teun van der Heijden
Drawings: Sonny Liew
Pop-up Mynah: Moon Brouwer

The exhibition The Migrant is co-produced by Prospektor and the Nederlands Fotomuseum. The entire project was made possible by support from the Netherlands Film Fund, Creative Industries Fund NL, Free Press Unlimited, Amsterdam Fonds voor de Kunst, and Mondriaan Fund. The exhibition was made possible by contributions from the Erasmus Huis, Marinus Plantema Foundation and the Nederlands Fotomuseum. The exhibition at Objectifs is supported by Creative Industries Fund NL and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.