Originally created 12/26/05

Artists create films, paintings, dance about tsunami



BANGKOK, Thailand - A comic book tells the tale of a young Thai boy swept away by last year's tsunami who ends up being saved by the spirit of his dead father. An animated film shares the story of a grieving husband who lost his wife in the waves and continues having visions of her.

Ever since the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami that left at least 216,000 people dead or missing, artists from around the world have tried to capture the epic scale of the horrific event.

"The artist becomes a catalyst, creating work for people to react to, discuss and understand," said Apinan Poshyananda, director-general of the Thai Culture Ministry's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture.

"For me, art is like an international language," said computer artist Sarose Jiamket, who worked on the comic book. "Sometimes you can't read or understand the words, but the pictures will tell a story."

The Thai Culture Ministry organized an exhibit in October in the popular tourist resort of Phuket, where many people lost their lives in the waves, to help make tsunami art more accessible to the public. About 30 artists showed their sculptures, installations and paintings.

South Korean sculptor Choi Jeong-hwa crafted three works: black lotus flowers showing the good and bad sides of the impact of human development, a maze of yellow plastic baskets surrounding a tree to show how humans are "trapped" in nature and a colorful chain of flower bouquets.

He said his aim was to get people to question the world in which they live and how they live in it.

"It's the question of how you live your life. The tsunami was nature's attack. I wanted to provide an opportunity for people to look back on their experiences and learn from them," he said.

German artist Frank Rodel created "The Lost Paradise," a mixed media work with motifs of dead bodies, people running from the tsunami, and monks and elephants who helped clean up the destruction.

Rodel, who survived the tsunami in Thailand, said his work wasn't meant as a form of self-therapy.

"In the beginning, I didn't want to work on that experience because it was a real nightmare for me," he said. "But after I worked on it, I felt much more relaxed, I didn't have the feeling to need to run away anymore. I wouldn't do this as a kind of self-therapy - it would only create bad paintings - but actually I am happy that I worked on it because it's over now for me."

Yoshimoto Nara, a Japanese artist known for his dog motifs, said he hoped to provide visitors "peace of mind" with his sculpture of a milk-colored dog, which will be displayed this month at an expanded showing of the Phuket exhibit.

"As long as survivors can hold on to their hopes, they can be saved, not necessarily by sculptures being made for this project but anything - a piece of photo in a magazine, or a doll anyone may have," Nara said. "I'm not doing this for everyone. I only hope that someone can feel rekindled or relieved to see my dog."

Film shorts, shown at a recent film festival in Bangkok, tackled the tsunami in various ways.

In the animated film "Forget It," a man who lost his wife to the tsunami while they were on honeymoon continues to have visions of her sleeping, bathing and embracing him. In "Ghost of Asia," children order a man to do daily tasks: eat, go to the bathroom. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a Thai who co-directed the film with Christelle Lheureux of France, said they didn't want to present a tragedy.

"We just want to focus on the living, on what life can be," he said.

In "The Helping Hand," Swedish director Folke Ryden filmed a documentary that followed a Thai man who helped others despite losing everything to the tsunami. Ryden also is making a longer documentary about post-tsunami recovery in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

"With these films, we really try to show as well that life is so complex, there is so much more to it. People that have lost everything, they can actually enjoy life again... they can enjoy it even more," he said.

Artists shouldn't exaggerate their roles, he said, but "if we can go to places and focus on complex situations and create more understanding about issues that could be hard to comprehend, I think we are helping a little."

In the United States, the Miami Contemporary Dance Company used the tsunami as the basis of their latest work, "Asiasong on Our Soil," which also addresses the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

In the piece, dancers are dressed in red fabric, some performing solos and other dancing duets or in group sections, to show people working together and exploring their culture, said Ray Sullivan, the company's artistic director and resident coordinator. In one movement, a woman drags a man across the stage who becomes covered with the red fabric, symbolizing the tsunami's unidentified victims.

"There's a cultural feeling of wanting to honor all of these people that did lose their lives," as well as the families that are working hard to move on, Sullivan said. "To document them within the art form definitely has a sense of trying to sort of memorialize this is what happened, and this is where we see it, and this is how we dance for these people."

About a dozen computer and fine art students at Thailand's Rangsit University shared their take on the tsunami: they designed, drew and painted a comic book, "Hope After the Tsunami."

Their story concerns a boy named Kan, who lived in the Phuket area. Kan loses a friend in the disaster, and almost his own life, too: He is swept away by a wave, but is saved by the spirit of his dead father.

"After that, Kan realized that his father who went away a long time ago never left him," said Pitprapai Sarasarin, one of the Rangsit faculty members leading the project.

"This story is to tell those people who lost their loved ones to have hope, that their loved ones will always be with them."