With the impending release of "Little Ashes," one is reminded that art can inspire social protest. Sadly most modern artists are trained through the academics taught with Freudian perspective, but lack personal perspective. Some artists protest for the self gratification of creating controversy. Jim McNalis is NOT such an artist.
In his youth, McNalis loved the motion picture experience. When living in California, McNalis tracked down, met some his heroes from the silver screen and developed personal relationships with screen legend like Stan Laurel and television legend Steve Allen. After serving in Vietnam and a part time stint with the secret service (protecting Robert Kennedy at one point), McNalis worked for Howard Hughes in Las Vegas and was an advisor to Jimmy the Greek. McNalis eventually held a steady job as an artist with Disney Animation.
Through his many connections, McNalis became a free lance artist and prospered in South Florida. While creating sculpture of popular figures like President Barrack Obama and the Rolling Stones, the cause most dear to McNalis’s heart is the plight of Burma (officially the Union of Myanmar).
Three weeks ago, an American, John Yettaw, allegedly swam across the Inya Lake uninvited to Aung San Suu Kyi's house, resulting in the arrest of Yettaw and Suu Kyi. As a result, Suu Kyi is being charged with violating the terms of her house arrest. Suu Kyi's current house arrest term was due to end on May 27, 2009. Aung San Suu Kyi is a Noble Peace prize winner who has been under house arrest since winning the Burmese popular election in 1990. McNalis says of the Burmese people;
“They are what they believe. The people go all the way and they live a life devoted to the things outside themselves. They are not preaching non violent protests, they are doing it by example.”
During my interview with him, Jim revealed horrible stories about human rights abuse perpetrated by military government of Myanmar. With his non violent protest based on his artwork, Myanmar has labeled Jim McNalis an enemy of the state; McNalis created a sculpture that characterized a Myanmar general as a obese pig. -titled **The Pig who would be king.” The late Steve Allen said of Jim McNalis;
“Make no mistake, Jim is waging war. His ammunition is, astonishingly-clay.”
McNalis no longer crosses the river that separates Thailand from Myanmar, but he still maintains connections. At event for Burmese exiles, McNalis was invited to bring his statue of Aung San Suu Kyi. McNalis shocked the event organizers by allowing the exiles to touch the statue. As McNalis explained;
“Some of the clay was from Burma, near where Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest. For the exiles, it was the first time they put their hand on Burmese soil in many years.