A reflection on creating ‘Echoes from Myanmar’
Written by Paul T. McGilvray April 12th 2021
It’s a surreal feeling knowing that as I sit here and write this, people are dying in Myanmar regardless to my work. I’m currently in my comfy pants, sipping a cup of coffee from my yellow mug, while many people in the world suffer through no fault of their own.
On February 1st, the Myanmar military seized control of the country, arresting their democratically elected leaders who won the last election by a landslide. In an art group on Facebook, a friend of mine in there had been caught up in Myanmar in the conflict, and updated the group as the situation deteriorated over the coming days and weeks. She pleaded for help and for us to share information to the western world. I pitched to her an idea, inspired by the works of stop-motion masterminds Aardman and their project ‘Creature Comforts’ (1989), I put forward the idea of using an animation to speak for her to get her message out. The plan was to use the animation to act as a shield for her protection, and to protect her family. It was designed to be visual at the same time, with motion to draw an audience.
It was around this time that the military started to cut their internet, remove CCTV, and attack civilians. I know that unless I acted, the window would close for them. And that I needed more than one person. Using social media, I reached out to influences and anyone posting from Myanmar crying out for help. I explained to them who I was, and what my project was about. I highlighted the risks to them, and the precautions I am taking to keep their identity safe. All of them were scared, afraid that their military and their police would come for them and their families. They knew despite my best efforts, they would sill be at a high risk. Many were too scared, but shared their support. The few who did speak further, and agreed to have their voices recorded, knew that by doing so they could be arrested, or even killed. They said they believed their message was more important, and that they accepted this risk.
It’s a scary thought, that they could be killed for asking for help. It made me realise how much we take freedom of speech and freedom of media for granted. And I knew I had to make this project work. I reached out to many of my friends, asking them if they could donate their time and skill to make a few shots for one character each to be cut together as an ani-jam collaboration that highlights their differences of perspective, united by the red tones influenced by the CDM (Civil Disobedience Movement, a group of peaceful protestors) and by animation.
With 7 interviews and 6 artists, plus a talented audio technician to clean up clips, we got to work animating quick, simple, but visually strong sections that varied in style and approach. Under the voices is the sounds of pots, recorded by one of the locals. It seems strange, but let me explain.
At 2000hrs every night, protestors hit the streets, their front yards, or even their roof to bang pots and pans to make the loudest noise as possible to protest the coup. It is influenced by a protest by Chile in 1971 called now as the ‘March of the Empty Pots’, in which they marched in protest of the scarcity of food in their region.
The voices, or echoes, were recorded and sent in within the first three weeks of the coup, before the situation went from bad, to their military firing live rounds, deploying tanks, and in the later weeks of March, sanctioned air strikes on civilian housing. Over the last few weeks, I have seen more dead bodies than I ever did working as a nurse and in news prior. I have lost contact with several of the
voices recorded as the military continues to black out the country. Their safety and wellbeing is unknown. I can only cross my fingers and hope.
While working through this project, and spreading awareness where I can, I am often meeting resistance from people. ‘It’s not our country, we shouldn’t interfere with their politics’. I would argue a military coup and genocide by the actions of war crimes is not politics we should ignore. If you see someone being mugged, or being bullied, is it not the right thing to do to intervene and help? Or if someone fell over and hurt themselves, should we help them? No one should endure the conditions the Myanmar people are facing. Many are now homeless, either too scared to return home or their homes destroyed. They live in holes dug into the forests. They struggle with food and water, and medicine for the injured.
Today, Monday 12th of April, 701 civilians have been killed, 3012 are under detention, and the government has issued over 600 warrants for arrest according to the AAPP (Assistance Association for Political Prisoners) since the coup began on February 1st. But what can we do?
Currently, the U.N has done nothing but condemn the actions of the Myanmar military that conducts itself as poorly as terrorists against the people they swore to protect. That is as useful as thoughts and prays to fight any situation. Empty words to make empty progress. So by spreading the word, sharing information on social media, making art for others to share, we can put pressure on the U.N to do their job, and give hope to the war-battered country of Myanmar that the world does care.