Published on August 12, 2007
Which Asian country generates the worst industrial waste and which is becoming the world's dumpsite for hi-tech waste? The answers are alarmingly obvious among the satirical drawings on view at the 10th Asian Cartoon Exhibition.
It's at the Japan Foundation Art Space in Bangkok until August 22.
Unless the environment gets some fast help, the 10 cartoonists reckon, the ill effects of rapid urban and industrial development could get out of hand and bring about disaster.
The artists represent Japan, South Korea, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and India, as well as Thailand - all nations suffering from or causing a mixed bag of ecological ills - so it's no surprise that they pull no punches when depicting the mess in their own backyards.
If the crisis is a misfortune for Asia, it's a calamity in China, a country of environmental superlatives of the wrong kind. Bringing a doom-and-gloom assessment is Li Qing, a former senior staff writer at the Jinan Daily in Shangdong province.
His cartoon "Blooming All Year Round", one of the most powerful images in the show, depicts "white pollution" - a mass of plastic bags entangled in leafless treetops. Seen from afar, the impression is of cherry blossoms. The truth is far less pretty.
China also boasts mountains of used electrical batteries, which in his image "Roller" are shown as the real scourge of a modern industrialised society. If not disposed of correctly, waste batteries can pollute the ecological system for 50 years.
"Roller" has a devil driving a giant AA Battery Roller - "poisonous bomb", "King of Terrors" - that crushes humanity.
Ships arriving in Taizhou City's Haimen Harbour, south of Shanghai, bring 1.8 million tonnes of metallic junk a year from Japan - old machinery, switchboards, air conditioners, refrigerators - and the same nightmare is unfolding elsewhere in Asia.
"This industrial waste also comes to Thailand," says Thiwawat "Moh" Pattaragulwanit, gesturing towards Qing's shocking images. He's moved by the Chinese cartoonist's pictures, but in Thailand's case he chooses to highlight problems like drought, deforestation and big-city pollution.
Thiwawat frets over the "mismanagement" of our water supply.
"In the dry season we suffer drought, but the capital never suffers because all the attention is focused on protecting big cities. In the rainy season the countryside is flooded, but the capital isn't because it's well defended."
Thiwawat spent 10 days creating eight entries for the exhibition. "The Tsunami of Urbanisation" features a huge wave of high-rise buildings crashing into a forest. He doesn't indicate if the big, bad city is supposed to be Bangkok, but it's foul with all kinds of pollution.
The city becomes "Unseen Thailand" in another illustration, an environmental mess that the Tourism Authority of Thailand is trying to hide.
"I know you can't change the world with cartoons, but cartoons are a medium for getting across my ideas about saving the environment," he says.
"As a cartoonist I try to mirror reality in my drawings. In Thailand, water is the biggest problem. It's everyone's responsibility as to how we can manage the environment better. After all, we need clean water and clean air."
In Thiwawat's "Water is Life", a group of armed men and women defend a bowl of water in a drought-stricken village. In "Water is a Critical Problem Across Thailand", a big city gets a drenching in a bathtub, but the tub rests atop dry, cracked earth.
As for proffered solutions, the Korean and Japanese cartoonists suggest forest conservation, recycling of used household items and rooftop gardens to reduce heat - ideas more easily talked about than realised.
But the exhibition succeeds in reminding viewers of the serious consequences in failing to take action, and the shared responsibility to act soon.
The Japan Foundation Art Space is on the 10th floor of the Sermmit Building on Soi Asoke (Sukhumvit 21). It's open Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm and on Saturdays until 5pm. Call (02) 260 8560-4 or visit www.jfbkk.or.th.