A Singaporean couple was taken aback to find their wedding photo being used as part of the Hari Raya decorations at Tiong Bahru Orchid estate in Bukit Merah recently.
Wedding photo used as Hari Raya decorations
Speaking to Mothership, Sarah Bagharib said that she was informed of the decorations by a friend who saw the standee on Instagram and recognised it as her wedding photo, even though the faces were cut out.
The friend saw the standee from another friend's Instagram Story who is a stranger to Sarah.
"I was honestly taken aback when I first saw it," said Sarah. "It’s one thing to have my photo used without my permission for a government-related 'celebration' and another to have our faces cut out for other people to put theirs through and take photographs of?"
"We definitely did not consent to our images being made into theatrical elements for clownery and amusement," Sarah added.
She then wrote about the incident on Instagram on May 28:
In the post, she elaborated that it is disturbing and unacceptable to see her wedding photo being used as "a caricature of Malay people".
She also highlighted the incongruity of using a photo of a traditional Malay outfit with wedding symbols to celebrate Hari Raya, as it was "a completely different cultural event."
Radin Mas MP, Radin Mas SMC and vendor apologised
Within 24 hours of Sarah's Instagram post, various parties apologised for the incident in comments on the post.
The standee was also taken down immediately, according to the comments.
The first was a user who identified himself as a representative of Warabi Enterprise (Art Studio), the vendor engaged to set up the decorations:
The Instagram account of Radin Mas Single Member Constituency also left an apology, and said that they were not aware that the vendor did not seek permission before using the photo.
They also said that they will ensure stricter reviews and checks to ensure such incidents will not repeat and acknowledged that it was "inappropriate" to have used a wedding photo for the festive occasion.
Meanwhile, Yong thanked Sarah for alerting him and said that he has asked for an investigation to be carried out.
Relevant agencies need to "internalise the gravity" of this error
Sarah shared with Mothership that Yong and the Chief Executive Director of the People's Association (PA), Lim Hock Yu, have apologised to her privately.
However, she hopes that the apology can be made in public as the gaffe was insensitive not just to her and her husband but also to the entire Malay/Muslim community.
She also feels it is important for PA, an agency that seeks to promote racial harmony and social cohesion, to acknowledge this error publicly and to highlight what are the steps taken to ensure such incidents will not happen again.
"I am glad and appreciate that the Chief ED of PA and MP Melvin Yong have apologised to me privately about the matter. However, there still needs to be a public explanation as to how the processes within PA failed them and allowed for this display of cultural ignorance."
Sarah adds that this incident shows the importance of having diverse voices in leadership position within organisations.
This is not the first time that such incidents have happened, she observed.
"As an ethnic minority living in Singapore, this also felt too familiar. This isn’t new – seeing others have a superficial understanding of my culture and then feeling like I have to explain why the incident is wrong on so many levels. It’s exhausting"
Therefore, she urges the relevant agencies to "internalise the gravity of this situation".
On May 29 afternoon, the PA and Yong have since made public posts on Facebook addressing the matter, with the PA's post saying that the association, and the Radin Mas Constituency Office, "take responsibility for this error as we have oversight of the matter."
It also said it would take action to guide its staff and external vendors to be "more culturally-attuned and sensitive."
Yong shared the PA's post, adding his own apologies, and saying that "there can be no excuse for the breach of copyright and the decorations should not have been allowed to be put up."
"Our internal review processes will need to be significantly strengthened and we are reviewing how we can do things better so that such issues do not happen again," said Yong.
Top image from sarahbagharib/Instagram