The Journey of Kumjing

The Labour Sans Frontier art project was started in 2004, by the national Thai female sex worker organisation EMPOWER Foundation, in order to highlight the issues which routinely affect migrant workers in Thailand.

The project involved migrant Burmese sex workers, based in the northern Thai/ Burmese border town of Mai Sai, creating paper mache dolls as a tangible representation of themselves.  Each doll was handcrafted by an individual sex worker; however, all dolls adopted the moniker Kumjing, a common Burmese name.

Paper mache dolls crowded into a bus
Kumjing dolls take the bus

On 8 March, 2004, EMPOWER Foundation launched their first public display of the Labour Sans Frontier project at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument. Over 100 Kumjing dolls were displayed in representation of migrant sex workers who faced difficulties in travelling within Thailand, regionally and internationally, due to policies and travel regulations restricting their movements.

A follow up exhibition was held in July, 2004, at the International AIDS Society conference. At this event, over 250 Kumjing dolls were displayed and carried travel documents issued by the EMPOWER Foundation.

The bearer of this passport is an adult citizen of the world who is entitled to those inalienable rights accorded to all human beings without exception. This document serves to provide the bearer freedom of movement and protection from human trafficking as well as unnecessary rescues.
Kumjing’s passport

International activists and supporters of the migrant sex worker community “adopted” dolls and returned them to their own countries. In undertaking the “adoption” of Kumjing dolls, Kumjing’s new families undertook to send photographs of their adopted Kumjing engaging in sex worker activism, leisure activities and visiting new locales, and to send these images to the Empower Foundation.

Kumjings dolls are subsequently living in almost every continent and are transported to every conference, event and activity attended by EMPOWER Foundation activists.

According to the EMPOWER Foundation, the Labour Sans Frontier project and it’s Kumjing dolls represent the desire and dreams of migrant sex workers to travel freely without restrictions or harassment from state authorities, with the hope that one day the earth will have no borders.

snapshot of Empower website
Empower website featuring The Journey of Kumjing

The project was awarded second prize in the “Freedom to Create” awards in 2009.

More details of the project, and photographs of the Kumjing dolls around the world, are available on EMPOWER Foundations’s website.