Refugee Narratives: 10 Pantomime Performance Videos

One of the main creative assignments of the “Imaginative Communication” course [a Comparative Media course in which we explore the theme “How to Tell the Unutterable” by analyzing and comparing the depiction of Psychic Trauma in various visual media, from comics to animated & live-action movies, tv series or choreographies] is for the students to compose and produce a group performance based on refugee narratives. After visualizing refugees’ journeys graphically [see previous assignment “Refugee’s Grid and Gestures“], watching some related footages [Charlie Chaplin’s 1916 The Immigrant, Wilfredo Rivera’s immigration choreography The Golden Bird Cage, or PositiveNegatives’ animated zoom-comics North Star Fading], reading/watching comics and webcomics [Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, Marc Ellison and Didier Kassai’s immersive graphic novel House Without Windows, or our former students’ refugee comics dice], discovering refugee installations [architect Mohamad Hafez’s multi-media installation Unpacked] and analyzing and comparing Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel and animated feature Persepolis, students were asked to compose a live pantomime performance of 3′ to 5′ [depending on the number of team members]. The constraint was that their refugee characters had to remain silent, voiceless, muted by the trauma, unable to speak the language of their ‘host’ country, or fearing to speak their own language and have their illegal/foreign status revealed.

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Unpacked multi-media installation by Syrian-born architect Mohamad Hafez.
The Arrival Shaun Tan
Page from the wordless comics The Arrival (2006) by Shaun Tan

Due to the COVID-19 crisis and while productions were well underway, performances couldn’t be presented live anymore for obvious safety reasons. Early March, students were asked to film and edit their performances as video footages so that their works could be screened online. On Wednesday March 26 in a virtual classroom, our 40 students introduced and displayed their video performances which were evaluated and commented by songwriter, performer and former [Performing Arts] CommArts student, Namtarn Jinwara (KhopKhunKhrap!) and yours truly.

I am really proud of these works, sometimes created under unexpected COVID-related logistic constraints. The brave team of exchange students -while scattered throughout the world to reach safely their native countries- managed to create an imaginative piece on their way home or while held in quarantine facilities… Below, you can discover film stills from the students’ projects, but also some of the actual performance videos. Here are the numerous choreographies, but also some creative short drama films, which sadly -and timely- echo the ongoing and future displacements of refugees caused by Climate Change, COVID-19 and other crises. Ajarn Nicolas Verstappen


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Film still from the refugee performance video Hope of Dawn by students Pim, Pranang and Milk [with performers from the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University]. A journey from Syria (contemporary dance) to Germany (ballet).
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Film still from the refugee performance video Hope of Dawn by students Pim, Pranang and Milk [with performers from the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University]. A journey from Syria (contemporary dance) to Germany (ballet).


Film still from the refugee performance video by students Paar, Palmmy and Tukta
Click on pic to launch video.

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Film still from the refugee performance video Disconnected by students Ben, Eve, Frongki, Pecky and Plai


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Film still from the refugee performance video Lost Boy by students Gam, Ink and Por [with perfomer Cathrin Ballmer]

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Film still from the refugee performance video by students Beam, Eye, Jean and Rika
Click on pic to launch video.

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Film still from the refugee performance video Life of a Little Refugee by students Bee, Fay, France, May and Mine


 
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Film still from the refugee performance video by students Earth, June, Lily, Praew and Prim
Click on pic to launch video.

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Film still from the refugee performance video by students Boat [perfomer], Jinny, Pop and Smile
Click on pic to launch video.

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Film still from the refugee performance video by exchange students Alexandra, Meg, Núria and Pure
Click on pic to launch video.

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Film still from the refugee performance video by students Ellie, Ice [performer], Nam, Nanz and Pin
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Film still from the refugee performance video by students Ellie, Ice [performer], Nam, Nanz and Pin
Click on pic to launch video.

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Film still from the refugee performance video by students Paar, Palmmy and Tukta
 
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Film still from the refugee performance video by students Paar, Palmmy and Tukta

FURTHER COMMENTS

Namtarn’s comments and mine were usually revolving on issues of clarity and meaning. Some performances could have been made more engaging and relatable through the narrative and recurring use of simple objects [as in the Dardenne brothers’ films] or indentifiable gestures developed as motifs. Another point was the lack of “feeling of space” which might be a crucial element in refugee narratives (belonging, borders, in-between…). Most performers move through wide empty rooms and one reason is, of course, related to COVID-19 constraints: most teams couldn’t find a safe, fitting and available location for the shooting. Yet, as we discussed during the session, there were some simple options. I mentioned the German Expressionist films‘ painted set designs which could be emulated with some black and white paints on cardboards.

   Another reference provided was the set design of Lars von Trier’s 2003 feature film Dogville. Bold white lines on the floor may end up being quite effective.

Questions were also raised about production as I felt some works were slighlty too slick, sometimes missing the roughness of the refugee experience. On the other hand, some students were concerned that the quality of their videos had been impaired by production problems caused by the COVID crisis. I mentioned that improvisation and DIY approaches actually benefited the production; and I mentioned the DIY aesthetic of French director Michel Gondry on numerous music videos and movies, and mostly his lesser-known 2008 Be Kind Rewind feature film. Some excerpts were screened: The Chemical Brothers’ Let Forever Be MV, The White Stripes’ The Hardest Button to Button MV,  Massive Attack’s Protection MV or Björk’s classic Bachelorette MV.  

As a conclusion, I mentioned that all performance videos had a grim and dark tone and that other approaches were possible. Thinking about a Martin Parr aesthetic, I mentioned Dario Fau’s colorful and caustic music video Dégueulasse by Caballero and JeanJass. But all in all, I’m a #ProudAjarn, as I was so impressed by the involvement and dedication of my students on this meaningful project in a time where the fate of refugees is even more thrown into jeopardy, and invisibilized in the main news outlets. Ajarn Nicolas Verstappen 


END CREDIT
I’m feeling relieved you didn’t state the opposite. ;^) Love you too! Stay safe!

“Nailed”, a Silent Graphic Narrative by a Student of the ‘Imaginative Communication’ Course (Nov. 2016)

“Nailed” is a silent graphic narrative by Thai student Rattanakorn (Mim) for the IMGT COMM course (2800217), November 2016. In response to a video (see below) where a young child is the victim of a cruel joke perpetrated by adults, her comics captures how the child’s inner world is shattered by the traumatic psychological abuse and how it will affect his late life.

 

Description of the Imaginative Communication course: “Methods of conversing emotions, feelings, ideas, values, beliefs and meaning of life through the languages of the imaginative world in the form of poetry, music and songs, literature, drama, film or other creative works of Thai and foreign artists; relationship between science and art of communications; media design for imaginative works; analysis of images and narratives.” This semester’s theme: “Psychic Trauma; To Say the Unutterable”Communication Management, International Program, Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University.

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“The Wave”, a Graphic Narrative by Students of the ‘Imaginative Communication’ Course (Nov. 2016)

“The Wave” is a graphic narrative (on the themes of psychological fright, phobia and school bullying) by Thai students Jinwara (Sugar) and Rattanakorn (Mim) for the IMGT COMM course (2800217), November 2016.

Description of the Imaginative Communication course: “Methods of conversing emotions, feelings, ideas, values, beliefs and meaning of life through the languages of the imaginative world in the form of poetry, music and songs, literature, drama, film or other creative works of Thai and foreign artists; relationship between science and art of communications; media design for imaginative works; analysis of images and narratives.” This semester’s theme: “Psychic Trauma; To Say the Unutterable”Communication Management, International Program, Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University.

A clever use of potentialities and features of the comics form (layout, composition, design, text/image relationship, iconic solidarity, iconic iteration…) to serve the content.

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Reproduced with the authors’ permission. All rights remain to the authors.

“Daddy’s Girl: Visitors in the Night” (first version) by Debbie Drechsler, USA, 1992


Daddy’s Girl: Visitors in the Night (first version) by Debbie Drechsler (USA), in: Drawn & Quarterly (Anthology) Vol.1, #10, Drawn & Quarterly, CAN, 1992. The author’s first name “Debbie” was changed into “Lily” in the Daddy’s Girl collection (Fantagraphics Books, USA).  More on the topic in our interview with Debbie Drechsler.

“Visitors in the Night” – or “Daddy’s Girl” as the book was eventually called – is a masterpiece of horror. And it’s all the more horrifying because it is true, and because the actions depicted, the innocence-killing, soul-destroying actions, are happening right now, everyday, all around the world. (Richard Sala, in XeroXed #4, July 2004)

Contains scenes of a sexual nature. Viewer discretion advised.

Copyright ©1992 Debbie Drechsler

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“YVES – My Life as a Refugee”, a Graphic Narrative by Chalit & June (April 2016)


A graphic narrative (on the topic of ‘War Trauma’ and/or ‘War Refugees’) by Thai students Chalit Ratapana (Faculty of Communication Arts; adaptation/script) and June (Pareploy Maneerut; Faculty of Political Science; art) – based on the true story of Yves -a Congolese refugee who survived ethnic cleansing- (Sanctuary Australia Foundation) – as an assignment for my Imaginative Communication course (2800217), April 2016.

Update: The Sanctuary Australia Foundation, which offered a safe haven to Yves, has decided to publish the 4-page comics alongside Yves’ original testimony. I guess the Foundation saw -as I did- how Chalit and June were able to capture and to express -skillfully, with power and sensitivity- the plight of an individual and how, at the same time, they grasped and shared the tragic fate experienced by too many. Crossing the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Australia, Belgium and Thailand, crossing comics panel borders, so many boundaries were physically and symbolically overcome… I’m proud of you Chalit & June and I hope your graphic narrative will participate in “engaging audiences in conflicts and displacement crises that seem remote (…), especially when there appear to be no means of relating to the people in the stories” (to quote PositiveNegatives founder Benjamin Dix, see Comic as Art, Education and Advocacy). Thank you Chalit, June and Mark Hallam (from the Sanctuary Australia Foundation). And thank you, Yves, for your painful yet indispensable testimony. Best regards. Nicolas V.

Yves Sanctuary
Screenshot of the Sanctuary Australia Foundation webpage with Chalit & June’s graphic narrative alongside Yves’s original testimony.

Description of the Imaginative Communication course: “Methods of conversing emotions, feelings, ideas, values, beliefs and meaning of life through the languages of the imaginative world in the form of poetry, music and songs, literature, drama, film or other creative works of Thai and foreign artists; relationship between science and art of communications; media design for imaginative works; analysis of images and narratives.” This year’s theme: “Crossing Borders”. Communication Management, International Program, Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University.

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“Barnyard Animals” by Craig Thompson, USA, 2002


Barnyard Animals by Craig Thompson (USA), in: Dark Horse Maverick: Happy Endings (anthology), Dark Horse, USA, September 2002.

Dear students, the anthology Dark Horse Maverick: Happy Endings is available @ Kinokuniya bookstores.

Copyright ©2002 Craig Thompson

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More on the topic in my paper Muted and Mutated: Animal-headed characters in autobiographic trauma-related comic books in: Asylum, the magazine for democratic psychiatry: Comics & Mental Health Part 4, Winter 2015, Vol.22/4, Monmouth (UK).

“Horrors of War”, a Graphic Narrative by CommArts Students (March 2016)


A graphic narrative (on the topic of ‘War Trauma’ and/or ‘War Refugees’) by students Lukkaew, Mint, Prim, Korn & Ice for the IMGT COMM course (2800217).

Update: a short but precious FB comment (April 2, 2016) on Horrors of War by V for Vendetta co-creator & artist David Lloyd: “That’s great storytelling!”

Description of the Imaginative Communication course: “Methods of conversing emotions, feelings, ideas, values, beliefs and meaning of life through the languages of the imaginative world in the form of poetry, music and songs, literature, drama, film or other creative works of Thai and foreign artists; relationship between science and art of communications; media design for imaginative works; analysis of images and narratives.” This year’s theme: “Crossing Borders”Communication Management, International Program, Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University.

For a first attempt on the medium, they make a clever use of potentialities and features of the comics form (composition, design, text/image balance, layout, iconic solidarity, colour, onomatopoeia…) to serve the content.

PS: Just noticed the left-facing “Sanskrit” swastika on the cover while making the scan.

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Reproduced with the authors’ permission. All rights remain to the authors.