Hellfire Pass

It was a sunny, quiet, afternoon. Ana and I were in Kanchanaburi, walking the tragically beautiful railway built with the cost of 100,000 lives, between Thailand and Burma. We came to the grotesquely impressive cutting known as Hellfire Pass.
Silence. We can’t talk, just walk. Deep sadness and contemplation.
We reach the end of the gorge, I try to mumble something, but give up. I don’t have words for this.
The silence is broken by laughing, and squeals of delight coming from back down the gorge.
There are a couple of school girls jumping around taking clichéd selfies, shouting in happiness, and enjoying their narcissism.
I’m angry, disgusted, and dismayed. We leave, I’m disgruntled, chuntering pious self affirmation.
Later in the evening the event plays on my mind. I try to practice compassion, I try to understand the world view of those school kids.
Of course, they weren’t being disrespectful, they were just ignorant of my world view. . Their world, no less valuable than mine, is just different. I am ignorant of their world view.

My task is to embrace both their world, and mine, in a better tomorrow.

So, I started to think about how I could represent both worlds in painting. Initially I tried to paint Hellfire Pass in Watercolour and in soft pastel.
Then I thought about my world view as represented by poppies strewn across the gorge (UK people will understand the symbolism of the poppy), so then tried to paint a diptych of their world, and my world. I found it very difficult to paint their figures taking selfies in the gorge.

After the diptych I decided to try to merge the world views into one picture. The poppies are easy to depict, a cliche maybe. However, I needed to think about how to represent the selfie obsession of those school girls. The best that I could come up with was two very poorly painted figures partly in silhouette, and partly in outline. However, I think that I captured what I aimed to, namely the co-existence of two very different worlds.

Daniel, Bangkok, Oct 2015

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