Words by Kinah Baguan
Unrest has gripped Myanmar. Territorial disputes along its borders have been a major threat to humanity due to ethnic cleansing. For the past years, civil war between the national forces and minority groups led to indiscriminate killings among children, enforced disappearances, gang rape, and other forms of sexual violence, torture, and destruction of properties. Succeeding investigations attests to these claims, however, the government has vigorously dismissed such accusations leveled at the security forces as propaganda. In this matter, minorities are left stateless and exiled in the limbo of violence and war.
Homecoming / Eventually curated by Lorendana Pazzini-Paraccian probes into this reality by examining the human condition surrounding the notions of marginalization of political and religious identity, and matters of home and belonging, drawing attention to the act of crossing geopolitical borders that punctuate Southeast Asia. It consists of audio and video footage as well as site-specific artworks based on the ethnographic experience of Nontawat Numbenchapol and Ryan Villamael.
In Soil Without Land (2019) by Nontawat Numbenchapol, the audience is introduced to the space and character of Jai Sang Lod — a young refugee-turned-soldier. We see him as an ordinary young man in a difficult situation. Right after his mother died, he was forced to live in the borderlands of Thailand-Myanmar in the interest of protecting the peace of the nation from the Shan minority. The second act of the film narrates his daily life that is reduced to routine and commands; revealing the harshness of military training as hundreds of young soldiers stand in formation while the sun shines down into their weathered faces. These turning points in the life of Sang Lod acknowledges the nature of the border and how it was militarized by recruited agents embodying a hyper-masculinized sense of national honor. For the past years, the Burmese government began a campaign to assimilate Shan independence leading to the rise of the Shan State Army. As the borders remain active war zones up to this day, Shan refugees flee from their homes in an attempt to seek asylum in the shadows of Thailand. With the exploration of freedom on a personal and state capacity, as well as how political agendas affect the people on the ground; the documentary film reiterates marginalization and trauma among exiled as illusory borders continue to perpetuate in the contemporary.
Standing from a distant view of Ryan Viallamael’s Terrain, After (2019) — thin and intricate white paper cut-outs spanning the wall form a resemblance of a mountain range. Gathered at the floor are mounds of sand, like dunes in a desert with no footmarks or anything left conveys a very quiet and desolate impression. Parallel to each other, the two terrains locate the body in new and uncharted territory; as it likely initiates dialogues on diaspora and movement brought by the pervasive culture of migration in the Philippines. There is a sense of sentimentality as one sifts through the speck of sand representing the majority of overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East. “Katas ng Saudi”, a popular local idiom vividly narrates our local story of migration which is deeply rooted in economic improvement. Similar to the documentary film, this site-specific installation transforms the invisible into visible which broadly reflects different experiences of movement. It further confronts issues related to territorialism, displacement, and the unfurling definition of “home,” which was described as infinitely transportable. To leave the home country for personal reasons and to be refused to return for oftentimes political reasons invite new ways of thinking about borders as an enduring cultural and geopolitical divide in a progressively borderless global society.
Diaspora: Exile, Exit, Exodus of Southeast Asia, MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, 2018, unpublished.
Nontawat Numbenchapol. Soil Without Land, 2019, film catalog, unpublished.
Rouven, Linnarz. Interview with Nontawat Numbenchapol: “Every time I make a documentary I learn something new about people, about places or about history.” Accessed on on 2 June 2021 (link)
Nontawat Numbenchapol. Soil Without Land, 2019, Photo Courtesy of Vargas Museum, Accessed on May 11, 2021. (link)
Ryan Villamael. Terrain, After, 2019, Photo Courtesy of Vargas Museum, Accessed on May 11, 2021. (link)