Put a ticking clock below your pillow then go to bed. How long would the ticking keep you up? It seems that the more conscious we are of time, the lesser the enjoyment of it. When we were children who ran in fields and rolled in mud, day after eternal day simply rolled out before us. As adults we are more than ever masters of our own time, yet more often than not we lament our lack of time.
Do death row inmates feel this way? That each second which slips by is excruciatingly fleeting. How does one continue to find the will to live under death’s looming shadow? How do we as fellow human beings subject our own to this sort of torture? “These were some of the questions we had asked the participating artists to reflect on when we first started this project”, says Ngeow Chow Ying a member of the steering committee to Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall Civil Rights Committee (KLSCAH – CRC) and Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM)’s joint October Death Penalty Awareness month. “Of course if an artist supports the death penalty we respect that opinion and an artist is not restricted to producing artwork that only shows support for abolition. The questions were posed more as guidelines”.
Nora Murat, Executive Director of (AIM) agrees with this, “The idea is to encourage self learning. In the course of producing the artwork artists would have to delve deeper into the issue. The public in turn when they come for the exhibition will hopefully be provoked into sourcing out the inspiration behind the work”.
Death Penalty Awareness month is being held in conjunction with the World Coalition’s World Day against the Death Penalty. Every year, on 10 October activists in support of the abolition of the death penalty unite and call on all citizens of the world to ask governments to abolish the death penalty. It is a day of campaigning and awareness building and a day where we remember those who have been robbed of their precious time unjustly.
World Day this year carries the theme of “The Inhumanity of the Death Penalty”. The theme highlights that the death penalty is not only cruel, inhuman and degrading for the moment of execution alone. Rather the entire process, from the time of sentencing till the last moment of consciousness is profoundly torturous.
For some the torment is both physical and psychological. For example, in Japan, death row inmates are kept in solitary confinement. Given the long appeals process, many wait on death row for over 20 years. Furthermore, the inmates are not informed of their execution till the morning of the day itself. Hence, for many, the heavy clod of the warden’s boots passing their cells each morning could very well be the footsteps of ‘Death’.
In 2009, Amnesty International published a report titled ‘Hanging by a thread: mental health and the death penalty in Japan’. It highlighted five cases where mental illness had been reported, including two with extensive medical documentation. “Death Penalty is a very emotional demand. In anger, people rarely take the time to thoroughly contemplate what they are subjecting another person to. This is where NGOs, individuals and campaigning come in. Predominantly to be the voice of reason”, says Nora Murat.
One of the main events for KLSCAH-CRC and AIM’s Death Penalty Awareness month is an Art Exhibition themed “In Death Row’s Shadow”. The exhibition will feature a total of 13 mostly local artists. There are also two Singaporean artists and a US based photographer joining the fray. The artists range from industry veterans such as illustrator JC Wong who has been in the industry for the past 15 years to self taught artists such as blogger Susan Loone who was recently featured in the Creative Women’s Art exhibition in Penang. The exhibition will also feature visual artist and activist Seelan Pelan in collaboration with Shikin Ali from Singapore. Seelan Pelan has been brazenly political in his work and uses his art to explore and comment on the social and political world which he is immersed in.
“People can definitely expect diversity”, comments Ngeow Chow Ying. “The range of artists and the fields which they specialise in are quite wide. So it will be very interesting to see how each individual has chosen to interpret the theme and express it through their art”.
“In Death Row’s Shadow”, Art Exhibition will take place from 1 October 2011 till 10 October 2011 at KLSCAH. On weekdays the exhibition will be open from 3.00 pm till 9.00 pm while it will be open from 11.00 am till 9.00 pm on weekends. The exhibition is open to the public and admittance is free of charge. The exhibition will be launched at 2.00 pm on 1 October 2011.
Apart from the Art Exhibition, there will also be a mini death penalty film festival. “Some of the movies are a little more graphic, but it is not about trying to shock or repulse an audience into agreeing”. Nora Murat continues, “Movies and film bring people into the world of the characters. We need people to see the soul behind the convict. It needs to be a realisation that, that could be me because of the infallibility of a justice system”.
The film festival will feature gripping and powerful tales from across the globe. From the story of an Iranian woman denied her voice to that of an elite prostitute accused of the murder of her lover. If this proves too scandalous for your movie palette, we will also be screening a series of Taiwanese documentaries called the Formosa Homicide Chronicles. Why did it take the Taiwanese Courts 23 years to decide on the case of Chiou Ho-shun? Discover the discrepancies behind one of Taiwan’s most controversial cases!
The Film Festival will take place on 8 and 9 October 2011, from 2.00pm till 5.00 pm and from 7.00 pm till 10.00pm on both days. Each movie/film will be followed by a discussion session. Admission is free.
Finally, on 23 October 2011, Toshi Kazama a US based Japanese photographer will be in town. Although some of his photographs will be exhibited throughout the Art Exhibition, Toshi Kazama will be bringing more pieces and host a public discussion to share the inspiration for his work with the public.
Toshi first felt compelled to study the legal system of US whilst raising his children there. It was then that he first noticed the discrepancies within the processes. Citing from his self description, he then realised that he had three choices. He could sit by and ignore the issues, pack up and leave, or work to help solve them. Toshi now photographs the faces of juveniles on death row and death chambers. He often travels to different countries speaking about his subjects.
He takes a fierce interest in his subjects. In a previous interview with the Japan Times, he had said that, “To tell you the truth I had expected these young people to be monsters. But they were so normal, just like the children I would see at my children’s school”. He believes that the death penalty is a reflection of all that is ill in society. He says, “As a society, our solution to crime is simply killing, or executing the offender”.
Toshi Kazama will be explaining his photography and answering questions on 23 October 2011. For more information on the time and venue please contact Ngeow Chow Ying below.
For more information on the activities and to confirm attendance please contact Ngeow Chow Ying at [email protected] or call 016 673 1909.