ETHNOGRAPHIC PORTRAIT AS A BUGIS CALABAI (2018)
The Bugis people are an ethnic group based in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. They are now also an integral part the broader Malay race group in Singapore. A unique aspect of the Bugis identity is the acceptance of gender expressions that might now be interpreted as "queer" expressions. They have a recognized system of up to 5 genders – Makkunrai and Oroane (comparable to cisgender female and male respectively), Calalai and Calabai (transgender man and woman) and the Bissu, a term given to people who have transcended gender altogether and often given sacred roles.
As Singapore progresses, our citizens often forget that the Bugis people brought along to this country a history of acceptance of gender identities that may not necessarily be widely accepted in our modern day context.
Ethnographic Portrait of A Bugis Calabai sees Norah Lea, a transgender self portrait artist, reclaiming her own position within her Bugis heritage, where her gender identity is more likely accepted as normal than in today's Singapore.