Reframing and Remixing the Southeast Asian Past

I have started making “soundscapes” to accompany blog posts that I write about historical events or phenomena in Southeast Asian history. I am not sure why I started to do this, and I’m still not sure what exactly it is that I am doing, but the more I think about it, the more it seems to make some kind of sense.

napalm image

The above picture is an iconic image from the Vietnam war of children running from a village that had been napalmed.

The image below is a “reframing” of the same image by Polish artist, Zbigniew Libera.


Which image is more disturbing? Why? What is the point of the second image?

Clearly, this “reframing” of this iconic photograph can lead people to think about various things: the past, suffering, affluence, the present, etc.

So I think I’m trying to find a way to do this with sound. This is more difficult as there are not many “iconic sounds” from the past. That is therefore somewhat of a limitation, but it can also leave more room to be creative.

In “remixing the past” in the previous post, I was attempting to represent in sound the lack of interest on the part of the Marine Court at Singapore that some of the survivors of the Angola wreck had resorted to cannibalism. By placing sounds of murder and cannibalism alongside a smooth trance groove, my idea was to create a sense of complacency in the face of horror.

While that remix is not as artistic as Zbigniew Libera’s reframed photograph, perhaps the idea is more or less the same?


I also find it interesting that less than a century earlier before the survivors of the Angola wreck engaged in cannibalism, the survivors of the wreck of a ship called the Medusa had also engaged in cannibalism.

This act was captured in a painting that now resides in the Louvre. That painting caused a scandal/sensation when it was created, in part because people were appalled at the time to learn of what the surviving sailors had done.

So why was the Marine Court at Singapore unfazed about what the survivors of the Angola wreck did? And why are we so unfazed by so much today?

Perhaps reframing and remixing the past is a way that we can think about these things.

4 thoughts on “Reframing and Remixing the Southeast Asian Past

  1. I cannot understand why Polish artist, Zbigniew Libera was hoping to achieve. I may be missing the point but it seems pointless to me. but then it takes all types, i guess. What would be interesting would be to trace where the Vietnamese people, especially the young man and the girl ended up in life. I have some wonderful friends here in Australia who were victims of the war. One friend was a “boat people” and her and her family’s departure from Vietnam was rather tragic.

    On another note, some weeks ago I raised a point about about the Trung Sisters and what fact and fiction surrounds them. At the time you indicated that you would post something about them on this site. did I miss something or haven’t you got to that story yet?

    Thanks for the interesting stories and point of view….. Peter

    1. I don’t know if you ever saw the (anti-war) documentary, Hearts and Minds, but in it there is a former pilot who talks about how he flew sorties over South Vietnam, blowing villages to bits with scientific precision simply by pushing a button, and then would fly back to Saigon and go drink beer and relax, etc. At some point, however, it dawned on him that there were actually people down there who were experiencing things like we see in that (in)famous picture. So when I look at Libera’s “reframing” of that photograph, this is what it makes me think of – that pilots mind before he had the “realization” of what he was actually doing. The main point, however, I think is that a photograph like that will make everyone think of something different, as the way you view it depends on what you already know and think. So that’s kind of like how we understand history. The way we understand the past depends on what we know and how we think.
      As for the people in the picture, that girl’s life has been well-documented (not sure about the boy though).

      As for the Trung Sisters, my apologies. I think you asked about their deaths, and I was going to write something about that. I wrote this:

      But never got around to writing about their deaths. The gist of it all is that all of the “accurate” information about the Trung sisters (by which I mean, all of the information that appeared within a few centuries of their lives) is incredibly brief. They rebelled, they died. The detailed information came later. And the point I tried to make in the above post is that the more detailed information that came later is not because people “remembered” or “preserved” information about them.

      Below is an older post that I wrote related to the same topic.

      There is no clear connection between the people whom we today call the “Vietnamese” and the Trung Sisters. If a Vietnamese today could go back in time and talk to the Trung Sisters, they would not be able to communicate. Vietnamese today would also probably have little connection to the cultural world of the Trung Sisters either.
      The connection that people “think/feel” today is a textual connection. It is because scholars in the medieval period tried to create an imagined political genealogy that went back into antiquity. They did this by looking at information in extant Chinese texts. And that information started to be embellished by Chinese authors in the centuries after the time of the Trung Sisters, and continued to be embellished by “Vietnamese” scholars.

      I don’t know if this helps with what it is that you were wondering about. Let me know if it isn’t. And thanks for the comment.

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