Attending cartoonist Aw Pi Kyeh (APK)'s talk now. He's been spending a lot of time touring villages, giving townships, giving talks about the way ahead for Myanmar. (He recently did 100 talks in just 200 days!)

Thankfully for the bulk of us, he's speaking in Burmese, letting Soe translate. All the Burmese in the room are laughing their asses off at his images, while us outsiders are pleasantly mystified, until Soe fills us in. This feels good: we're learning stuff.
He has a lot to say about censorship - over 400 of his cartoons have been censored in the past. He uses a metaphor of football to describe his strategy then: aiming for the goal, he's only able to do a corner kick, not a penalty kick - no easy hits here. And the audience has to do a header with the ball before it even makes it through the goalposts.
APK: Sometimes the ball is higher than the audience, sometimes it is lower, so it cannot hit. So I need to adjust my ball to the height of the audience. Sometimes I hit the ball directly to the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper represents the guys in censorship.
He likes to use the language of soccer to explain the art of reaching out to a nationwide audience, not just as political commentary and activism, but also in the form of edutainment: consumer rights, warnings against avian flu; the five Rs of environmentalism (recycle, reuse, reduce, reject, return); digesting science books into handy-dandy explications of how the organs work from the brain to the eyes to the stomach. 
APK: Cartoons have to be easy to understand, easy to remember, and if you are familiar wth the cartoon, your ability to think and present your message will be stronger. That is why when I talk to [name?], who is one of the premier painters of the country, his idea was to introduce cartoons into the school curriculum. If you want to pass that information to the audience,t o the public, if you use a lot of information they cannot reach easily to the audience. That is why I use cartoons to translate the information.
His philosophy is one of making difficult principles simple - not a communication of Head to Head, but Heart to Heart - and thus opening the heart as a channel for ideas and information. (He had a graphic to explain this, but I didn't get a shot in time.)

But but but! Remember that these are different times now. Change has come unto Myanmar, and as of last year, the censorship boards were abolished. What effect has this had on his practice?
APK: Now we can draw freely. But we are used to self-censorship. And I need to practise myself! Because I lived the whole of my life with censorship. So now I get to kick the penalty kick. But my foot is used to doing corner kicks.
No excuses though: he's kicking away. All he needs is a pen and paper for a few hundred kyats; not even watercolours are necessary, since he's got Photoshop on a computer at a friend's house. Now he uploads cartoons in the morning and gets 2,000 likes and 1,000 shares within an hour. His fans get hold of his phone number and call him up to say well done.

And he goes out - I mentioned his tours, didn't I? He explains what's necessary in the next three years: the path to democracy by 2015. Four main points: distance, time, technology, responsibility - technology compresses distance and time, and responsibility keeps the whole system working.

All jim-dandy then?
APK: But we are not free, not totally, not 100%. They lifted the censorship board, but they control in other ways, with laws. So it is still quite dangerous.

And now it is difficult to draw caricactures of people, like the President or even Aung San Suu Kyi herself. Sometimes I see weaknesses, and I can’t show them. We are in a transitional period. Right now the president and Aung San Suu Kyi, they are trying to pave a road to the future. As a cartoonist it’s sometimes it’s not good to point fingers at them even when they wander into bushes. 

Also public knowledge is not full enough. Their target is good, but sometimes their ways are not always right. 

But we are a watchdog, and so sometimes we need to bark when something’s wrong.
One last quote, from Q&As. An Alter U participant asked if he'd be using cartoons to critique the weaknesses of Buddhism.
APK: My ideology is to make anything that’s difficult to understand easy. That question is to make something that’s easy difficult.


07/26/2013 18:18

I agree with Aw Pi Kyeh; even though the constitution proclaims that we are free, it is not entirely true as the government is imposing on us different restrictions from time to time. Of course, we need to bark when we see some thing going awry.

01/29/2014 21:27

Interesting post, i love to visit your blog everyday


Leave a Reply