Cable and internet-based news outlets increasingly beam in vivid footage of on-going wars into our homes and handheld screens. This phenomenon is not limited to contemporary events. In museums, portrayals of past conflicts have undergone marked new curating with the availability of new platforms—high definition monitors, interactive interfaces, and impressive aural installations. Thousands of hours of ‘old media’ – film footage and still photographs from archives around the world – have been digitized in recent years. This extensive exposure purportedly imbues us with new knowledge and in some cases with a concomitant responsibility; we are no longer allowed to say we did not know. There is, however, also concern that ‘over-viewing’ risks blurring the distinction between visual media’s critical potential and its naturalizing of violence. Who are the primary stakeholders forming these new narratives – are they journalists, academics, governments, NGOs, victims themselves – how and why do their representations vary? With these considerations in mind, SUTD has invited scholars and journalists in an attempt to addresses the aural, visual, and material representations of war and conflict.
|8:30AM||Registration (Participants to be seated by 08:55AM)|
|9:00AM||Opening Remarks by Sun Sun Lim, Head of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, HASS|
|9:15AM||Aanchal Malhotra, Museum of Material Memory, New Delhi
— “Tracing Migration and Memory of the Partition of India through Material Culture”
|10:00AM||Nico de Klerk, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for History and Society, Vienna
— “A 1912 cinematographic reconstruction of the 1898 Pedir Expedition, Aceh”
Patricia Spyer, The Graduate Institute, Geneva
|11:45PM||Thai Panel: Violence and Dissent in the Modern Thai Archives
Chair: Samson Lim, Singapore University of Technology and Design
Malinee Khumsupa, Chiang Mai University
|2:00PM||Rohingya Panel: Reporting on the Rohingya: Views from the Field
Chair: Maitrii Aung-Thwin, National University of Singapore
Lam Shushan, Channel News Asia, Sinagpore
|3:45PM||Antariksa, KUNCI, Cultural Studies Center, Yogyakarta
— “Co-Prosperity: Art and design in Japanese-occupied Indonesia, 1942-1945”
|4:00PM||Han Sang Kim, Ajou University
— “Can the ‘Comfort Women’ Footage Speak? The Afterlives of the Film as a Document and the Flow of Life”
|4:45PM||Sandeep Ray, Singapore University of Technology and Design
— “Versions of Internment: Chinese-Indians in the Deoli Camp, 1962”
*Kindly note that the programme may be subject to changes.
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Aanchal Malhotra, Museum of Material Memory, New Delhi
Title: Tracing Migration and Memory of the Partition of India through Material Culture
Aanchal Malhotra talks about her research on material ethnography of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, as she attempts to understand the notion of displacement and belonging through the objects and artifacts that refugees carried across the border on either side. She approaches the event that changed the contemporary history of the subcontinent with a new lens, from a distinctive third-generation perspective and looks at new ways of excavating otherwise traumatic memory.
The memory buried within ‘things’ sometimes is greater than what we are able to recollect as the years pass. Memory dilutes, but the object remains unaltered. It allows one to study the history within it, and for generations to live off that history and perhaps understand genealogy better. What one carried across the border – how many and what kind of objects they brought, how they were able to carry them across, what was valuable and what mundane – was often determined by the kind of life one had led, and provides incredible understanding into the material culture of the time.
By unfolding the memories woven within materiality, the work unravels a deeper understanding of the personal narratives around the Partition. And though the object – a necklace, a ceremonial box from one’s trousseau, an odd utensil, a shawl, a painting, a photograph, or letters- remains at the centre, what emerges through such a storytelling is the way of life in a syncretic Undivided India.
Aanchal Malhotra is a visual artist and oral historian working with memory and material culture. She received a BFA in Traditional Printmaking and Art History from the Ontario College of Art & Design, Toronto and a MFA in Studio Art from Concordia University, Montreal. Much of her work looks at how ordinary belongings found across the subcontinent can act as democratic spaces for cross-border conversations. She is the author of ‘Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory’ (HarperCollins 2017) and the co-founder of the ‘Museum of Material Memory’, a digital repository of material culture from the Indian subcontinent, tracing family histories and social ethnography through heirlooms, collectibles and objects of antiquity. She currently lives in New Delhi.
Antariksa, KUNCI, Cultural Studies Center, Yogyakarta
Title: Co-Prosperity: Art and design in Japanese-occupied Indonesia, 1942-1945
Throughout the Japanese occupation (1942-1945), the Japanese authorities sought to mobilise Indonesian artists for propaganda in support of the ‘Greater East Asian War’. In an unprecedented event in Indonesian art history, art came under centralised supervision, and the idea of art collectivism became an important platform for serving and disseminating the idea of Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere.
One art organisation in particular was focussed on the development of nationalist arts during the Japanese occupation, namely Keimin Bunka Shidōsho (Institute for People’s Education and Cultural Guidance; better known as Pusat Kebudayaan or Cultural Center)—it was established in April 1943 as an auxiliary organisation of Sendenbu (the Propaganda Department). Its tasks were to promote traditional Indonesian arts, to introduce and disseminate Japanese culture, and to educate and train Indonesian artists. It comprised of separate sections for film, literature, painting and sculpture, theater and dance, and music, and each section was co-chaired by Japanese bunkajin (men of culture) and Indonesian artists.
Japanese bunkajin played an influential mediating role between the occupier and the occupied, the commander and the commanded, especially during the crucial early stages of the occupation, in particular in Java. In this role they solicited and received assistance from influential figures, including Indonesian nationalist artists and members of the intelligentsia.
Antariksa is a researcher and co-founding member of KUNCI Cultural Studies Center, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. He is the 2017 laureate of Global South(s) du Collège d’études mondiales/Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme fellowship, Paris, and currently Associate Fellow of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS)-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore.
Clare Veal, LaSalle College, Singapore
Title: Nostalgia and nationalism: Facebook ‘archives’ and the constitution of Thai photographic histories
This paper deals with the epistemological violence inherent in the production of historical and photographic archives in Thailand. Tracing the development of the National Archives and Library in Bangkok, I consider how the form of archival organisation relates specifically to the dominance of what has been termed ‘royalist-nationalist’ histories, as well as the circumvention of other conceptualisations of the past. Drawing from Craig Reynolds’ (1992) argument regarding the interrelationship between the “plot of Thai history” and the narrative historical form, I assess how this plot might be challenged or displaced through recent informal online archives, including those developed collaboratively on social media. Rather than dismissing the nostalgic nature of these online resources as indicative of their uselessness for academic research, I propose that the movement from text to image, and from the material to the digital, provide new ways to think through Thailand’s history and its relevance to the country’s current socio-political situation.
Clare Veal is a lecturer in the MA Asian Art Histories program at LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. She undertakes research on Southeast Asian photography, art and visual culture, with a particular focus on Thailand. In 2015, she received her PhD from the Department of Art History and Film Studies at the University of Sydney, for the thesis entitled ‘Thainess Framed: Photography and Thai Identity, 1946–2010’. Clare was the sub-editor for Asian Art for the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Modernism (2016) and has contributed papers to a number of publications, including Journal of Aesthetics and Culture and Trans-Asia Photography Review. In 2016 she co-convened the symposium ‘Gender in Southeast Asian Art Histories’, at the University of Sydney.
Drew Ambrose, Al Jazeera Media Network
Title: Beyond the lens: how reporting conditions shape the documentary narrative when reporting on the Rohingya Crisis
Drew’s presentation will look at how reporting conditions affect the narrative and storytelling. As a long form documentary producer- he will outline the challenges of making feature length journalism in this environment. For example supplying burner phones to refugees and following refugee trucks to keep track of his interview subjects. Visiting new parts of the camp required long hikes across the hills. Choosing who to cover and keeping track of refugee interview subject often took a number of hours. Mr. Ambrose will also address how freedom of movement affects establishing the facts. In the camps it was relatively easy to report on survivor’s stories. In contrast he was confined to Yangon and Naypyidaw. Reporting on Myanmar’s position is also difficult. Getting access to members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party or the military to speak on the issue was exceptionally hard. We’ve seen photographers and production crews locked up by Myanmar authorities. The contrasting reporting conditions made coverage a challenge to balance. He will also look at the ethics of reporting rape. Many female Rohingya rape victims were willing to show their faces on camera. Whilst incredibly admirable and brave- do the victims understand a consequence of such actions? And how do you try and verify such atrocities. He will also look at the challenges of sustaining interest in the story. Many editors would not keep reporters and photographers on the ground for long because coverage was expensive and wasn’t getting the same level of clicks/views of North Korea/Trump’s USA. Those who commission such stories want light and shade- both pictorially and editorially. On this assignment – it was exceptionally hard to find successes or angle that would make the story more palatable to an audience. But how hard is it to find heroes and happy stories in this climate?
Since 2010 – Drew Ambrose has been a full time foreign correspondent and filmmaker for Al Jazeera Media Network. Based in Kuala Lumpur, he reports across Asia for the flagship documentary program 101 East. His journalism has won the New York Festival Gold Medal, the Asian Human Rights Press Award and the United Nations Media Peace Prize. In 2017, Drew was one of the few journalists to cover the crisis from both Bangladesh and Myanmar to produce an episode of the program called “The Rohingya Exodus”.
Han Sang Kim, Ajou University, Suwon
Title: Can the ‘Comfort Women’ Footage Speak? The Afterlives of the Film as a Document and the Flow of Life
This paper examines the ways in which the film as a document has the potential to speak for the subjects of the footage in a different period from the original production of the film after the long lapse of time. When the U.S. Army Signal Corps’ footage documenting the Korean victims of wartime sex slavery in the Imperial Japanese Army in China was discovered and released to the public in the summer of 2017, some South Korean academics questioned its admissibility as new evidence since some of the subjects of the moving image had already been located in several photographs that had been discovered in the 1990s. This looked a directly opposite understanding of the footage to the agitated reports circulated in the mainstream media and the social media that praised the discovery of the brand-new evidential document depicting those ‘moving’ women. However, as the researcher who first encountered the footage in America’s government archives, I have continuously found both attitudes indiscreet and imprudent in that they just limit the footage as a storage that contains a photographic-mechanical evidence to prove someone’s existence in a scientific manner. Alternatively, this paper seeks to explore the film as a medium that embodies the reality of the subalterns and, if circumstances allow, speaks on behalf of them. Invoking Siegfried Kracauer’s concept of the ‘flow of life,’ an affinity with life in the form of everyday life films have but photographs do not have, I will examine the ‘comfort women’ footage by locating it in the contexts of both the time of production in 1944 and that of reception in 2017. The paper will also look into several other wartime military films depicting prisoners of war for either documentation or propaganda purposes.
Han Sang Kim is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Ajou University. His fields of research include visual sociology, Cold War governmentality in East Asia, Korean and East Asian film history, and cultural history of mobilities. He is currently working on a book manuscript on the association between the cinema and modern transportation mobility in 20th century Korea. His most recent article, “Film Auteurism as a Cold War Governmentality,” has been published in the Fall 2017 issue of The Journal of Korean Studies.
Lam Shushan, Channel NewsAsia, Singapore
Title: Ethics of presenting war victims on social media
Journalists have more tools today than ever before to push the boundaries of storytelling. Palm-sized cameras are capable of recording super high-definition footage, drones give unprecedented access to never-seen-before views, 360 cameras immerse the audience in the story like they’re actually at the scene. But when it comes to a controversial topic like the Rohingya crisis, is there a limit as to how much a journalist should capture for social media, especially when social media itself has fueled tension among the Rohingya people and other communities in Rakhine state? My presentation will take a look at some of the videos and images that I gathered from refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar – to examine its impact on the people featured and the response from online viewers.
Shushan is a journalist with Channel NewsAsia, and has covered news events in Asia Pacific such as the 20165 Myanmar elections and the 2017 Rohingya crisis. She is currently with the CNA’s online features team, CNA Insider. She films, scripts and edits her own video work, writes feature articles, and has a strong interest in experimenting with social media tools and new technology that bring her readers and viewers closer to the story.
Maitrii Aung-Thwin, The National University of Singapore
Chair, Reporting on the Rohingya: Views from the Field
Maitrii Aung-Thwin is Associate Professor of Myanmar/Southeast Asian history at the National University of Singapore. His research is concerned with nation-building, heritage, identity-politics, and resistance in Myanmar. His publications include: A History of Myanmar since Ancient Times: Traditions and Transformations (2013), The Return of the Galon King: History, Law, and Rebellion in Colonial Burma (2011) and A New History of Southeast Asia (2010). Dr. Aung-Thwin served on the Association of Asian Studies (AAS) Board of Directors and chaired the AAS’s Southeast Asia Council. He is currently a trustee of the Burma Studies Foundation (USA), member of the AAS’s Conference Program Committee (2017-2019), Convener of the Comparative Asian Studies PhD Program, and editor of the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies.
Malinee Khumsupa, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai
Title: Virtual Politics and the Coming of Micro-Counter Hidden Transcripts
Rally politics termed as “manufactured crisis” or “mobilized crisis” gradually divided politics in Thailand when each partisan tried to seize majority and number of supporters. Strategic symbolic and color were organized for unification and enjoyable protests. Color of T-shirt yellow or red were simply divided of political stance by way of seeing. Thailand, for decade experienced sight and sound of political advertising and propaganda. Two cheers of Yellow-Shirt or Red-Shirt had gradually spent all day and nighttime for binge-watching and listening media celebrities from satellite television. The politics was real like reality show 24-hour. How their inception of political value-loaded comments gradually set them apart? Or how partisan electronic media had empowered citizens and deepened popular political engagement, sometimes spilling over into violence? The first half of decade the familiar scenes of mass rallies and confrontations visualized and dominated political senses of the mass. Mass mobilization came to an end after the worst scenes of warfare military crackdown in 2010. Deja vu of the coups repeatedly replayed second time shortly from 2006 to 2014. The thirteenth 2014 coup began with a song “Return happiness to Thailand”. A ballad penned by a coup-making has been viewed more than 200,000 times on YouTube. The coming of digital technology and social network turned our focus to see a new episode of micro-counter of change instead.
Based on James C. Scott (1990), the paper aims to examine micro unit of resistance as a weapon of the weak loaded with hidden transcripts. Regarding small groups; Resistant Citizen Group and a lot of individuals, they generated self-initiated acts merging with the technology of network communication, allowing for an amplification of the visual force of protest in digital age. Micro-counter unit such as video clips or selfies emerge increasingly. It clear to see that individuals resorted and used their bodies as resources for resistance. Bodies become to political actors. The cartography of social movements had shifted from mass rallies to individual and small group to encounter the domination. People had embodied acts to express their political resistance with their hidden transcripts.
Malinee Khumsupa is an assistant Professor, School of Politics and Government, Faculty of Political Science and Public Administration, Chiang Mai University, Thailand. She is political Scientist and has a PhD of Art (Thai Studies) from Chulalongkorn University (2011). She is the Winner of the Ammarin Publishing Prize as the author of the book “The Underneath Meaning of Democracy Monument of Thailand” (2006). She also is editor of Journal of Political Science and Public Administration, Chiang Mai University. Her research interests focus on Post Colonialism in Southeast Asia, Film Studies and Politics in Virtual Sphere. Her articles topics are Decade of Encounter and Transgression of Short Film, The Aesthetic of Independent Film”, and co-author of Counter-Memory: Replaying Political Violence in Thai Digital Cinema.
Nico de Klerk, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for History and Society, Vienna
Title: A 1912 cinematographic reconstruction of the 1898 Pedir Expedition, Aceh
J.C. Lamster’s 1912 film on the Netherlands Indies Army was made during his commission to make information films about the East-Indies colony. His client, the new Colonial Institute, was keen on reawakening interest in and recruiting Dutch personnel for the colony’s booming economy and expanding administration. To obtain reliable documentation the institute had given him detailed instructions: no reconstructions. But for lack of time and resources Lamster cranked out the required topics as he saw fit. What upset the institute most were his arranged scenes of the Aceh War.
Contemporary photographs of the war were not plentiful and such as there were contain much posing or laying dead; battle scenes were largely available in printed form. Lamster’s scenes, based on his own experiences, although shot at considerable distance, in Java, contained enough couleur locale to give it a veneer of veracity.
The references to Muslim resistance place the reconstructed scenes at a specific phase of the war, the late 1890s, when a strategy of crushing religiously inspired opposition to Dutch pacification attempts of the region replaced the toppling of political leadership. The distance in time liberated Lamster from sensation and allowed him to make a retrospective ‘documentation’ of this decisive turn in the war during the command of General van Heutsz, under whom Lamster had served. It was Van Heutsz, as member of the Colonial Institute’s board, who had recommended him for the institute’s film project.
Nico de Klerk (Leiden, 1956) has a BA in English (Leiden University, 1983), an MA in Discourse analysis (University of Amsterdam, 1986); in 2015 he completed his PhD at Utrecht University, the Netherlands, published in 2017 as Showing and telling: film heritage institutes and their performance of public accountability. He is a researcher at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institut für Geschichte und Gesellschaft, in Vienna where he recently finished the project Exploring the interwar world: the travelogues of Colin Ross (1885-1945). Between 1992 and 2012 he was a collections researcher, archivist, and curator at the Nederlands Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. His work there focused largely on the uncharted territories of film archiving and film historiography, such as early nonfiction films, colonial and exotic imaging, the program format, advertising films, and amateur cinema. He has published widely, as editor and author, in (inter)national books and journals; between 1990 and 2008 he was also a critic for a Dutch film magazine. He is on the editorial board of The Moving Image: the Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists and Early Cinema in Review: Proceedings of Domitor.
Patricia Spyer, The Graduate Institute, Geneva
Patricia Spyer is Professor of Anthropology at The Graduate Institute Geneva that she joined in 2016. She was the Chair of Cultural Anthropology of Contemporary Indonesia at Leiden University (2001-15), Global Distinguished Professor at New York University’s Center for Religion & Media and Department of Anthropology (2009-12), and a Visiting Fellow at the Humanities Research Centre of the Australian National University in 2014. She is the author of The Memory of Trade: Modernity’s Entanglements on an Eastern Indonesian Island, Duke 2000, editor of Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Spaces, Routledge 1998, co-editor of the Handbook of Material Culture, Sage 2013  and of Images That Move, SAR Press, 2013. She has published, among other topics, on media and visual culture, materiality, violence, and religion. Her current book project Orphaned Landscapes: Religion, Violence, and Visuality in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia focuses on the mediations of violence and post-violence in the religiously inflected conflict in Maluku, Indonesia. Among other board and editorial appointments, she is vice-chair of the board of the Prince Claus Fund, a member of the Advisory Council of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, an editorial board member of the Annual Review of Anthropology and of positions: asia critique.
Sören Kittel, Reporter, Funke Media Group, Berlin
Title: Telling their story means believing them – Ethics and Challenges of Video Reporting at the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh
Mynthet is not really called Mynthet. The 35 year old Rohingya man told me a pseudonym when I interviewed him in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Talking to journalists can be deadly for Rohingya, when they return back to Myanmar, he said. Either Burmese authorities or the “Rohingya liberation army” threatened to kill “traitors”. For my newspaper article that wasn’t a problem. But this fear of Mynthet was lingering in my head during my four day trip this January. Especially since my newspaper wanted me to film the camps. I interviewed several refugees there. But I was never sure if they fully understood the impact of them being open to me. Additionally I used my smartphone, such a small every day object. Back in Germany I asked myself if the same rules we have for interviewing people in Europe apply to those in remote and desparate situations. Do we make parents sign a piece of paper when filming their babies? Do we blurr their eyes if we didn‘t get their consent? Is it okay to film a topless female, breast-feeding an infant – or a naked child of three years? But confusingly this also works the other way around: I could not get a second source on any of the stories the Rohingya told me. Thus I also just had to believe the atrocities they allegedly went through. I am sure Mynthet did not lie to me though. We are still in contact via WhatsApp. But his name was not Mynthet.
After high school in Dresden I studied in Leipzig, Amsterdam and Berlin Anthropology and South East Asian Studies. My focus was Indonesia where I had travelled to a couple of times and also did my research for my topic for the final thesis: “Postcolonial Culture of Remembrance und Techniques of Representation in Indonesian Museums”. I started working as a journalists while studying, wrote for different newspapers and magazines and ended up being a reporter at the “Berliner Morgenpost” for five years. I quit that job and moved to South Korea, after an interesting exchange program. In Seoul I also enrolled in the Korean Language Education Program at Sogang University. I hosted some conferences as a journalist who is interested in regional studies – and returned to Berlin to work at the FUNKE Media Group, that owns 12 newspapers in Germany and provides them with texts. As a reporter I have been to most of the terror places the last two years (Nice, London, Barcelona, etc.) and also travelled to Iraq, Fukushima and Hurghada to cover the crisis there. Bangladesh was probably the most interesting trip in that regard, since we had a lot independence in the field. We could find our own people to interview in the camps and were assisted by translators.
Samson Lim, Singapore University of Technology and Design
Chair, Violence and Dissent in the Modern Thai Archives
Samson Lim is an Assistant Professor of History at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. He received his Ph.D. in History at Cornell University. His research examines the connections between technology, capitalism, and culture. His first book, Siam’s New Detectives: Visualizing Crime and Conspiracy in Modern Thailand(University of Hawaii Press, 2016), is a history of the visual culture of policing in Thailand between during the early 20th century. He is currently working on a new project, which will be a cultural history of capitalism and the money economy as seen through the lens of financial crimes in early twentieth century Bangkok. He is also one of the faculty leads of the Opportunity Lab at SUTD, a centre at SUTD that encourages social change through design projects throughout Asia.
Sudarat Musikawong, Mahidol University, Salaya
Title: Archiving Political Violence in Contemporary Bangkok
In the last forty-five years, Bangkok, Thailand has experienced intermittent political turmoil and conflict, some would argue continual conflict and power struggles between liberal royalism, plebian populism, crony capitalism, and military might. Now the political divides are more polarized, crystalizing into color-coded political unrest. At the same time, one wonders where are the most violent events recorded in film and digital footage as part of the country’s attempts to archive its own ugly histories? This paper examines the role of the National Film Archives of Thailand, the October 6 digital archives, and Thammasat University Archives, in the ethical challenges of not only how to archive, but what to archive with regard to some of the most controversial and violent episodes in Thai contemporary history and more recent events. Through interviews and archival research, the paper is a case study of the 6th of October 1976 massacre and gestures toward the limitations of archiving the April-May 2010 violence. To date, while there are efforts to archive the October 1976 massacre in sight and sound, but such archives of the 2010 violence in Bangkok was only pursued by the People’s Information Center. Most other efforts by competing truth reports tend toward text based evidence. Now archives serve as repositories for current generations of documentary and dissident filmmakers seeking found footage or research for re-creating the 1976 October massacre as “the scene of violence.” As such, the importance of understanding the archives’ afterlife becomes more relevant as time passes.
Sudarat Musikawong is associate professor of sociology with the Institute for Population and Social Research at Mahidol University in Thailand. She received her Ph.D. and MA in sociology from the University of California at Santa Cruz and her BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Dr. Musikawong’s research examines two forms of justice: historical justice in the public sphere in Thailand (regarding past state violence) and Thai migrant worker justice. She positions her investigations within cultural-political sociology and ethnographic research.
Sandeep Ray, Singapore University of Technology and Design
Title: Versions of Internment: Chinese-Indians in the Deoli Camp, 1962
In 1962, China and India engaged in combat over a border dispute. The battle was short but the Chinese community in India faced long-term consequences. In addition to registrations, mandatory permits for domestic travel, and being disqualified from government jobs, some Chinese were taken to an internment camp in Deoli, Rajasthan. Many languished there for years while their homes were forcibly occupied and their businesses gutted. The last decade has seen a resurgence on the part of survivors, journalists, activists, and filmmakers in re-investigating that harrowing history. Drawing from written, oral, and visual sources, including propaganda films produced by the government, this presentation re-traces the events of that era and attempts to raise questions about the roles of the state and civic society in the ‘othering’ of a marginalised group during wartime.
Sandeep Ray is Senior Lecturer in Southeast Asian history and film at the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences cluster at SUTD. Sandeep received his B.A. from Hampshire College, M.A. from the University of Michigan, and PhD from the National University of Singapore. He has taught at the University of Wisconsin and was a Luce Postdoctoral Fellow at Rice University (206-17) before joining SUTD. He is currently working on Celluloid Colony: Inadvertent Ethnography in Early Dutch Colonial Film, a monograph analyzing the historical and ethnographic value in propaganda films produced in colonial Indonesia. Sandeep’s documentary films have been reviewed in The American Anthropologist, The Journal for Visual Anthropology have screened at many festivals and film forums.
Taimoor Sobhan, Fortify Rights, Bangkok
Title: Visual Overkill: ‘Compassion Fatigue’ in Filmed Reporting of the Rohingya Crisis
The history of violence towards the Rohingya minority in Myanmar has been well documented by international media. Countless television reports and online documentaries have featured graphic accounts of how Myanmar Army soldiers and armed mobs raped and killed masses of Rohingya civilians, burning down hundreds of villages. Yet these images have failed to galvanize the international community into action. Graphic filmed reports certainly raise awareness of ethnic cleansing and atrocity crimes in Myanmar, but often numb the emotional capacity of spectators, fostering an attitude of indifference towards a distant ‘other’ – known as ‘compassion fatigue’. This paper will explore the relationship between ‘compassion fatigue’ and contemporary visual reporting on the Rohingya crisis, and will address ways in which documentary film and visual media can counteract this, creating empathy, knowledge and international action.
Taimoor Sobhan is a Multimedia Specialist with Fortify Rights, and the founder of Studio 324, a Bangkok based production company. He has 10 years of experience producing films and multimedia content for international broadcasters as well as nongovernmental organizations. He has previously worked for organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Human Trafficking). He has filmed extensively in Southeast Asia for news outlets including Agence France-Press (AFP), VICE News, the BBC, and China Central Television (CGTN). Taimoor holds a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media from Brown University, and studied film and video production at the Film and Television School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU).