“The best way to overcome one’s sadness is to laugh”
I am Risna Okvitasari, nicknamed Sinna, from Indonesia. Since 2003, I have been working in Hong Kong as a domestic helper. While most people think that I am only good at cleaning, cooking and ironing — jobs of a domestic helper — I believe I can be a professional photographer and writer one day.
My journey in photography is inspired by my passion for writing. They are both about expressing your feelings and thoughts. I always liked writing in primary school, but I had to stop my education in order to earn money for my family back in Ponorogo, East Java.
I started to write again when I came to Hong Kong, in 2003. I had no friends — that’s why I ‘spoke’ to my diary. From writing in my own diary I started to send my work to Indonesian newspapers in Hong Kong.
After 4 years of relentless writing, my first story got published.
When I am alone, I play with my shadows to seek for what I want — love.
That was a turning point as I discovered my own specialty in writing — humour or sarcasm.
I want to transform any sad, grim stories through humour. The best way to overcome one’s sadness is to laugh — at least, this was how I overcame the first few years being a domestic helper in Hong Kong, without my family and friends.
Sadness does not make me cry. But it does make me think, and push me to write more.
This is my own hand — I painted it yellow and took a photo against the black background. This was during the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong. Then I edited the picture and just played around with colours. I like red because it is the colour of Indonesia.
My first story in the Hong Kong-based Indonesian papers waspublished in 2007. The papers feature fictive passages, advertise and cover Sunday activities for Indonesian workers, and most of my stories are satirical columns that contain strands of social criticism.
It was also the turning point that became my introduction to photography. Whenever I posted an article up on my blog, I needed a picture as an illustration.
That was when I started taking pictures.
I saved up for 2 years to buy my first DSLR. Every month, I earn around HKD 3,500 — which is only one-third of an average person’s salary in Hong Kong. I send most of my salary to support my family back in Indonesia.
One thing I miss most about Indonesia is the nature. So I took a photo of the flowers and then edited it with the silhouette of the boy I take care of at my employer’s home. He is my flower boy.
In October 2013, I met Lensational, a non-profit organisation in Hong Kong that provides foreign domestic helpers like us with free photography training. They taught us how to take good pictures but more importantly, they gave me the confidence that being a domestic helper does not limit me in my journey towards realising my dream.
So for my photography, I like to challenge stereotypes and provide new perspectives to see things.
Half a year ago, I became obsessed with black and white photography because it makes the complex world around me –being in a buzzling, busy city like Hong Kong — so much simpler.
I also became bolder in my photography. Once I put my DSLR in the fridge and set it on timer so I could take a selfie with an interesting angle!
HK is a place where the modern and the traditional blend perfectly. I love HK. Do you?
Even though I am only a domestic helper, I hope I can use my talent to become a professional photographer, and to inspire many more women in Indonesia to do the same.
Risna Okvitasari, 30, moved to Hong Kong at the age of 18 in 2003. She enjoys hiking, photography and writing, and blogs at ceritanekad.blogspot.com.