Music for Activists: Photos of Dead, Missing Thais Inspire Album

By Thomson Reuters Foundation 16 November 2018

BANGKOK — Photographs of dead and missing Thai rights activists have spurred a Canadian composer to create a music album and invite string quartets around the world to perform to draw attention to the violence campaigners face.

More than 59 land and environmental activists have been killed or have disappeared in Thailand over the last 20 years, according to advocacy group Protection International.

British photographer Luke Duggleby visited their families to collect their portraits, then took pictures of those photographs in the place where the activists were last seen.

His photo exhibit of 37 activists has been shown across Europe and in Thailand over the last two years.

Frank Horvat, who read about the exhibit in 2016, said he was so moved, that in just a month he composed “The Thailand HRDs”, comprising a two-minute movement for each photograph, using musical pitches or letters from the name of each victim.

“This music is not intended to be purely melancholic but have a tinge of defiance so that these deaths do not mark an end, but a continuation of the fight for justice,” Horvat said.

New York City-based Mivos Quartet performed Horvat’s composition in August in Toronto and the album is due to be released on Friday.

It will “hopefully spur listeners to find their inner activist and fight for what they feel is important in this world,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

A global campaign entitled “Music for Human Rights Defenders” or #music4HRDs, invites string quartets to videotape themselves playing a movement from the album and posting it on social media.

The aim is to bring the classical music community together to support activists, and raise awareness of an issue that has received little attention in the West, said Horvat.

In Thailand, evictions of villagers and indigenous people from forests and farmland have risen to make way for mines, power plants and national parks.

Laws governing forest management and land acquisition do not offer adequate protection for the poor, leaving them vulnerable to violence while defending their homes and land, said Pranom Somwong at Protection International in Thailand.

Among those featured in the photographs is Charoen Wat-aksorn, who led a campaign against a coal-powered plant. He was shot dead in 2004 after testifying to a parliamentary committee.

“Very few perpetrators have been held accountable for these and other killings and disappearances,” Pranom told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“If we don’t hold them accountable, it will keep happening.”