An ongoing project on the complexities of a continent growing up, how conservative societies are dealing with the gifts (sometimes poisoned) of modern life, how anacronic beliefs and practices find ways to be part of people’s lives in the new urban contexts, or how traditions are struggling to survive. Southeast Asia is developing fast, and through specific situations in its countries we can try to map a possible history of its growing pains.
The ubiquituous of the tv, and the numbness it often provokes, in a Bangkok’s street market. Indeed, everything’s for sale.
Angkringans from Yogyakarta
Angkringan is an unique feature of javanese culture, specially in Yogyakarta region. It’s a place to hang out with no formalities or class distinctions, just pure friendliness. This means students and artists, journalists and hookers, police men and the poorest of poor. It’s a little street coffee shop, selling hot drinks and cheap snacks or rice dishes wrapped in banana leaf, the lowest way of eating, the simplicity of everyday life. It’s a place where people stop for breakfast or a coffee late at night and a chat, during the whole day available for the ones searching for a brief comfort from the harsh sun, or a pause from the speed of life running on the outer side of the always present, always protector, plastic sheet. This little pocket of stillness and freedom of just being. No formalities, no distinctions. Some moments to be with yourself, reflecting, some opportunities for random conversations with unknown people, here, inside, it’s just normal to do whatever you want, everyone engages in talking with each other, everyone engages in leaving you alone for smoking a cigarette in peace, relax and get yourself together for returning to the sun, to busyness, to life itself. In this shaded corner of the running world, you can stop and breath.
Sit, relax. Have a coffee.
Penang island is filled with colonial architecture, present mark of a past domination but, at the same time, a gift for the eyes and a urban labyrinth to wandering in. Shopkeepers, namely the chinese and their lively decorations and peculiar products, re-arranged the faces of Penang into an elegant palette of colors and shapes, smells and tastes, history and everyday life. In contrast with the other historical town in Malaysia which attract hordes of tourists, Melaka, Penang has been able to preserve a large area of old buildings in its center.
Modern Life on Demand
Nothing will be sufficient anymore. No one will be enough.
When you don’t notice how do they wire,
What’s the object of your desire?
If these walls could speak
The Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot as a radical agrarian-based communist state, is responsible for the genocide of an estimation of 1.5 million people, one fifth of the cambodian population of that time. Hunger, slave work and torture were the language of the regime. One place where this story of horror was more intense is Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh, a former school turned into the Security Prison 21, a major torture site and execution center during the Khmer Rouge time and now converted in the Genocide Museum. Around 20.000 people were tortured and killed between its walls, with the added symbolism of this massive suffering being placed where before was a site for learning and education, with its class rooms being turned into prison cells and instruments for repression. Prisoners were forbidden to talk with each other, not given enough food and sometimes forced to eat faeces. They were tortured with electric shocks, hanging, suffocation techniques and waterboarding. Having their fingernails being pulled out while pouring alcohol on them was also common. With this treatment even the most innocent person confessed whatever the prison staff wanted.
The memory works as a tool for not repeating the errors of the past; but in contemporary cambodian society people don’t take so much time or effort to think about what happen in their recent past. One of the reasons it’s the fact that the generation that lived through the hell of Khmer Rouge regime is still alive, and not all of them were victims. In the present, people that were tortured or had all their family killed live side by side with people who were part of the state bureaucratic and violence machine of that time, with everyone using silence and the new worries of economic development as tools to not talk about what happen, to not bring again the sufferings and immense horror that this population went through.
But this kind of forgiveness has, of course, consequences in the present society. An authoritarian government, a population with lack of political involvement, a scarcity of democracy. Some of the new generation that don’t know, or worst, don’t believe that Khmer people were able to commit such atrocities to other Khmers. Even a dehumanization through mass tourism, seen for instance in the fact that authorities had to ban tourist from play the game pokemon go inside the premises of the prison.
The purpose of this project is not so much to depict what happen between these walls — which definately lies beyond my capability of understanding — perhaps not even to provide a critic on how the country is dealing with its past. Rather to provide a
kind of meditation process and an empathy tool to whoever rejects the comfort of not wanting to think about it. With each image I try to imagine the amount of suffering that each wall witnessed; with each trace or rip on the wall I try to pay homage to each human life that made it or look at it every single day of imprisonment until the very end, through hunger, torture or simple execution. A wall can be a portrait of what happen, forgiveness and the desire to move on should not be invitations to forget.
We should not forget.
Khmer people have the custom of using scarecrows in times of fear, an old animist tradition called Ting Mong for scaring bad spirits and ghosts, which is being revived during the corona crisis by placing these artifacts in front of their homes to trick the virus to contaminate them instead of the families living nearby. With the lack of health care and disseminated information on the virus, many are stuck in the crossroads between science and superstition. Also, in a context where people around the world doubt the official figures provided by authorities, this series presents itself as a metaphor for a culture focused more on appearance than science and factuality.