Artists Respond: Hindsight Is 2020

An illustration showing a crowd of protestors with giant yellow rubber ducks.

New Naratif asked 10 artists to reflect upon this year. Their responses speak to the importance of human relationships, facilitated or hindered by technology and censorship. In a year that has found so many of our systems and governments wanting, they find hope in the power of collective movements all over Southeast Asia.


A Zoom video-conference window is open, showing a couple attempting to have a virtual date. Other windows on the edges display their personal information and locations at which they have checked in using COVID-19 tracking apps.

Love, On Watch by Yunroo

“With borders being closed, many families and couples in Malaysia and Singapore have been separated. While the use of technology brings some relief to those forced to be apart from their loved ones, it also comes with concerns over surveillance and the encroachment of governments into personal lives.”


In a stormy sea, tossed by waves, a woman clings to a mobile phone to stay afloat. In the distance there is a hospital bed surrounded by nurses. Her grandmother lays on the bed. She is too far away to be reached.

To Say Goodbye by Sunny Go

“During times of separation, we speak of needing togetherness. Never have I felt that more than this year when my grandmother lay in a hospital bed thousands of miles away. The lockdown prevented us from being able to say goodbye, hold her hand, kiss her, tell her we’re right there for her. There has never been, and will never be, a lonelier place as this.

Losing a loved one will never be easy. But if you are going through this pain, know that others are navigating the same, and we are all here for you.”


 

A male teacher sits alone at a table, illuminated by the screen of his laptop. He holds up a printed assignment to the webcam and asks: anybody there? There is no response.

Alone in the Dark by Afif Slim

“2020 was a year of disappointment and heartbreak for me as a teacher. Each online class came with an extraordinary number of absentees. Hours spent preparing assignments were rewarded with unanswered messages. It was a year of constant trial and error: how do I motivate students to attend virtual classes? How do I encourage them to engage during lessons? How do I ensure that they are learning while not in school? Often, these questions went unanswered.”


 

People wait behind red lines marked on the ground for essential workers such as nurses and delivery workers to come to them. The soles of the essential workers trail red on the floor as they walk away.

Please Stand Behind the Line by Julia Hannie

“The past year has been a sobering reminder of how faulty and capitalist-driven our systems are, and how the most vulnerable are exploited in times of crisis. While many individuals are able to make the choice of staying home and out of harm’s way, there are just as many others who cannot afford the same luxury. Who are we willing to sacrifice, and for what cause?”


 

A looming figure of a man in a suit, red tie, and peci stands over women protestors who are demonstrating against the Omnibus Law: a figure of Ibu Pertiwi, children, mothers, workers.

Hak Kami Bukan Mainan / Our Rights Are Not Your Plaything by Stephani Soejono

“The Omnibus Law in Indonesia has been touted as a way to stimulate economic growth—but it erodes rights and paves the way for exploitation of workers. While many have highlighted its potential environmental impact, less has been said about the effects it will have on women workers. This includes no more paid menstrual leave, maternity leave or miscarriage leave; perpetuation of the gender pay gap and suppression of the minimum wage; and extension of maximum overtime hours, leaving women workers less time to spend with children and family.

I was heartened by the public’s ferocious response and protests against the law. The protestors campaign not just for their rights, but also for the welfare of future generations.”


 

What Happened With Typhoon Ulysses

Typhoon Ulysses struck the Philippines in November 2020.
102 deaths, US$440 million damage, 10 missing.

People were caught off guard because it struck on the aftermath of another big typhoon, Typhoon Rolly.
What people outside the Philippines don’t understand is a huge part of why people were unprepared for the typhoon is because months prior, the media regulator decided to cut off ABS-CBN, the largest TV network, from airing local broadcasts.

ABS-CBN had previously been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte and covered his brutal war against drug dealers and users.
ABS-CBN has the widest reach in the Philippines from radio to TV. It also hosts regional news channels in different languages that reach far-flung areas of the country.

All these news sources were gone during the typhoon.
Because of the de facto censorship of the network by the government a corrupt administration, people were unaware of the expected severity of the coming storm.

It cost their homes, possessions and even lives.

What Happened With Typhoon Ulysses by Richard Mercado

“The Duterte administration has done so many things wrong this year, from the handling of the pandemic, the anti-terrorism bill, the continued war on drugs, and now this. For how long will Filipinos have to pay the consequences?”


 

An extended family household in a traditional stilt house recovers after Typhoon Vicky. While some members are repairing and cleaning up the compound, others prepare goods to be sent for donation to affected communities.

Strong Foundations by Townsunder

“Consecutive storms hit the Philippines in early November and the recent Typhoon Vicky devastated the island of Mindanao. This illustration shows an extended family household recovering from the catastrophe and acting to help their community. While the Filipino spirit is often framed as being resilient in the face of natural disasters, the lack of government aid means that grassroots movements and actions like donation drives and strikes are critical to our survival.

In 2021, I hope that we maintain this level of urgency concerning our people while also casting a critical eye towards those who run our country. I reach out to our Southeast Asian siblings with a message of hope and strength. May this be your call to action, to spark change within yourself and beyond.”

Editor’s note: see the bottom of this page for a list of organisations working to provide relief for the victims of Typhoon Vicky.


 

A man walks past protestors who bear signs that say 'Stop killing our farmers!, 'No more violence!', 'Protect not kill!'. At home, he does some research and learns about red-tagging of human rights activists. He takes to the streets holding a sign that reads 'Activism is not terrorism'. He is joined by others.

A New Year by Ollie

“Is the start of a new year worth celebrating? Billions of taxpayers’ pesos are continuously being spent on pursuits such as red-tagging and excessive funding of the military and police. The number of victims of extrajudicial killings has been increasing steadily. People are losing their means of income. Public health protocols are suddenly being lifted, causing a surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

What’s worth looking forward to, for me, is everyone taking a stand against corruption and violence. If we don’t make our voices heard, it will only enable oppressors to keep on doing what they please.”


 

Scores of people raise three-fingered salutes as they climb up the levels of a circular tower. The upper levels are filled with tanks, barbed wire, and armed forces. At the top of the tower, a large figure reaches down, the numbers '112' etched into its palm.

The Climb by Pssyppl

“We the people have been oppressed, manipulated and controlled by higher powers for as long as I remember. Now that their ivory tower has started to tremble, it’s time for us to rise up for a better future not just for ourselves, but also for the generations to come.”

Editor’s note: the round object on the left is the brassPeople’s Plaque installed by protestors near the Sanam Luang in Bangkok, declaring that Thailand belongs to the people.


 

A crowd of protestors gathers outdoors, bearing giant yellow ducks. They raise three-fingered salutes against the towering dinosaurs that threaten to rampage their city.

Hail Democracy! Quack Quack!! 🐥 by Suppachai Vong

เรามองภาพของการชุมนุมประท้วงในครั้งนี้คล้ายกับหนัง superhero ที่จะมีฉากการต่อสู้กับสัตว์ประหลาดกลางเมืองใหญ่ เพียงแต่ในครั้งนี้ ประชาชนไม่ได้ฝากความหวังหรือพึ่งพิงแต่เพียง superhero คนใดคนหนึ่งอย่างเดียวอีกต่อไป แต่ได้ออกมาร่วมกันต่อสู้กับความอยุติธรรมและการใช้ความรุนแรงของเจ้าหน้าที่รัฐกันอย่างพร้อมเพรียง

นั่นคือสิ่งหนึ่งที่ม็อบครั้งนี้ได้ทำสำเร็จไปแล้ว คือทำให้ประชาชนตระหนักรู้ถึงสิทธิเสรีภาพ, พลังอำนาจของตนเองภายใต้ระบอบประชาธิปไตย และกล้าพูดถึงปัญหาต่างๆอย่างเปิดเผยในอีกด้านหนึ่งที่น่าสนใจ คือการที่ผู้ชุมนุมต่อสู้กับเจ้าหน้าที่รัฐด้วย “ความคิดสร้างสรรค์” (รวมถึงความยียวนเล็กๆตามประสาคนรุ่นใหม่) ซึ่งนั่นคือแสงแห่งความหวัง ที่ทำให้เราอดคิดไปไม่ได้ว่า เมื่อวันหนึ่งที่คนรุ่นนี้ได้เป็นกำลังสำคัญในการพัฒนาประเทศ มีส่วนสำคัญในการตัดสินใจอะไรๆมากกว่านี้ ประกอบกับภาคประชาชนที่มีความตื่นตัวกับกระบวนการทางประชาธิปไตย ประเทศนี้จะต้องดีขึ้นได้อย่างแน่นอน

“I picture the protests for democracy as a scene from a movie, where superheroes fight against the bad guys to protect their city. Only this time, we are not one hero but a people united against injustice and the Thai government’s violent acts.

One thing the protestors have already achieved is encouraging people to realise that in a democracy, they have the right to speak out about problems. The new generation of protestors is now using their creativity to fight against the government. That gives us hope for the future of the country; when this generation and the public are willing to stand up for democracy, Thailand will see better days.”

Editor’s note: giant rubber ducks, dinosaurs and the three-fingered salute are examples of ways in which protestors have used pop culture and symbols as a way to get around censorship.


 

Look back at other moments from this tumultuous year with our previous Artists Respond editions, from the political turmoil in Malaysia to life in the early times of COVID-19 and the anti-terrorism bill in the Philippines.

For updates on the protests for democracy in Thailand, including protest art, follow the hashtags #SaveThaiDemocracy and #WhatsHappeningInThailand on social media. See also the recently-published ‘A Movement Flowers in Thailand’ by an anonymous artist over at The Nib.

Here are a few organisations working to support communities affected by Typhoon Vicky:

Stay safe and well. We’ll meet again in 2021.

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