30 August 2020

Unmuted Project

Unmuted Project
Unmuted Project
Unmuted Project
Unmuted Project
Boundary
The Unmuted Project exhibition opened yesterday (monitored by a handful of police officers) at Angoon’s Garden in Bangkok. The exhibition is part of a wider pro-democracy movement, and includes pieces by 200 artists. Many of the artworks on show feature Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, alongside satirical portraits of junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha. At least one image directly criticises the monarchy, something that would once have been unthinkable.

Several of the works make reference to the 6th October 1976 massacre. A painting inspired by Neal Ulevich’s famous photograph of the event is partially obscured by a banknote featuring Prayut’s face. In a sketch by Dipthroat, the ‘chair man’ in Ulevich’s photograph is replaced by Prayut wielding a lectern, with Future Forward founder Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit depicted as the victim.

Most of the featured artists are anonymous, though some of the works are familiar. An image from Chalermpol Junrayab’s The Amazing Thai-Land is included, as are Harit Srikhao’s The Coronation of Brukhonenko’s Dog (the first photograph from his Whitewash photobook) and Nathee Monthonwit’s digital print World of Wrestling (โลกมวยปล้ำ). The exhibition runs until 5th September, and ends with a screening of the documentary Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง).

23 August 2020

Give Us a Little More Time

Give Us a Little More Time
Give Us a Little More Time
Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s exhibition and video installation Give Us a Little More Time (ขอเวลาอีกไม่นาน) closed earlier this month, though the exhibition catalogue is now available from Bangkok CityCity Gallery. The six loose-leaf volumes are housed in a slipcase, published in an edition of thirty signed and numbered copies (mine being no. 2).

Chulayarnnon used newspaper clippings to produce a satirical A4 collage every day from the 22nd May 2014 coup until the 24th March 2019 election, creating a daily critique of mainstream media coverage of the junta. Only ten of these were on display at the exhibition, though the catalogue serves as an archive of all 1,768 collages.

29 July 2020

Absolute Coup

Absolute Coup
Absolute Coup
Absolute Coup
Future of Cunt
Artist and musician Pisitakun Kuantalaeng’s new album Absolute Coup, released today, features seven tracks, named after seven sectors of society that, according to Pisitakun, created the conditions for Thailand’s many coups. The album is available on a gold-coloured, bullet-shaped USB drive (limited to fifty copies), symbolising the Thai military’s vast wealth and lethal force. It’s also available on cassette (limited to eighty copies).

The album’s first three tracks are also the most controversial: MoMoNarNar!!Chy, ArArMyMy, and ConConStituStitutionalCourt. (Disregard the repeated syllables, and the subjects become clear.) There are laws protecting each of these institutions from criticism in Thailand (namely lèse-majesté, article 44, and contempt of court), so Pisitakun is walking a legal tightrope.

MoMoNarNar!!Chy (and the album itself) begins with the Thai royal anthem played on a traditional phin (a type of lute), in a rare (and perhaps unique) appropriation of the anthem. ArArMyMy features samples of a speech by junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, and a roll call of cadets such as Phakhapong Tanyakan who died during military training. The album also comes with seven highly provocative stickers, based on paintings by Pisitakun, representing the subjects of the seven tracks as bug-eyed monsters.

Pisitakun’s work is currently on show at WTF Gallery as part of the group exhibition Conflicted Visions Again. His 10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown [sic] box set (limited to fifty copies, available at WTF) commemorates the tenth anniversary of the military massacre of reds-hirt protesters in 2010. The first issue of his Risographed comic zine Future of Cunt (limited to thirty copies) is available at another Bangkok gallery, Speedy Grandma.

21 June 2020

Give Us a Little More Time

Give Us a Little More Time
Give Us a Little More Time
Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s exhibition Give Us a Little More Time (ขอเวลาอีกไม่นาน) opened today at Bangkok CityCity Gallery. Every day from the 2014 coup until the 2019 election, Chulayarnnon created a different A4 collage from Thai newspaper clippings. There are more than 1,000 of these satirical collages, collected in a six-volume catalogue, and ten of them are on show at the exhibition as enlarged reproductions.

The main gallery space is occupied by a four-screen video installation, showing a twelve-minute montage of overlapping newspaper headlines and photos. This rapid-fire video collage remixes and distills six years of mainstream press coverage of the military government.

The exhibition’s ironic title is a line from a propaganda song released by the junta, Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย), part of which is sampled on the video soundtrack. Arnont Nongyao’s video Ghost Rabbit and the Casket Sales (กระต่ายผี กับ คนขายโลง) also samples the song, as does Thunska Pansittivorakul’s documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล).

Chulayarnnon’s recent film 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy (การผลิตซ้ำประชาธิปไตยให้กลายเป็นของแท้) is another post-coup political critique, and will be shown at CityCity on 9th August, when the exhibition closes. (Give Us a Little More Time was originally scheduled for 25th April to 21st June, though the opening was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

12 January 2020

Propaganda Children’s Day

Propaganda Children's Day
Propaganda Children's Day
Uncle Red Panda
The Sound of Elite
Yesterday was Children’s Day in Thailand. This annual event sees various institutions organise fun activities for children and families. One of those institutions, the military, allows toddlers to sit in tanks and pose with guns on Children’s Day, instilling positive feelings towards the armed forces from a very young age. To highlight the military’s disturbing grooming of kids, Headache Stencil held an alternative Children’s Day event this weekend at the Jam Factory in Bangkok.

His subversive Propaganda Children’s Day (วันเด็กชั่งชาติ), which took place yesterday and today, featured a life-sized tank decorated with anti-military graffiti. Inside the tank was a mini gallery with paintings such as Uncle Red Panda, depicting Prayut Chan-o-cha’s face with footprints over it (also available on t-shirts and stickers). Other paintings on display included The Sound of Elite, a collage featuring the background from Neal Ulevich’s famous photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre and a publicity still from The Sound of Music.

Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s documentary 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy (การผลิตซ้ำประชาธิปไตยให้กลายเป็นของแท้) also highlights the military’s exploitation of Children’s Day. Headache Stencil organised a similar exhibition of political art, Uncensored, at the same venue last year, and his Thailand Casino exhibition was equally satirical.

24 November 2019

“The Prime Minister.
Show a bit of respect...”

The Cave
Death Wave
The Cave (นางนอน), based on the true story of last year’s miraculous cave rescue, opened in cinemas this week. The film sticks solidly to the facts, with several key participants playing themselves. It’s tense and dramatic, and begins in medias res: the very first line of dialogue is “Let’s go to the cave.” There’s a moment of Ace in the Hole-style social commentary—a vendor selling lottery tickets at the cave entrance—though one scene stands out as comic relief: the arrival of the Prime Minister.

Before the PM appears, he’s formally announced—“The Prime Minister. Show a bit of respect, guys.”—though while he was on-screen, there were chuckles from the cinema audience. The character has a close physical likeness to Prayut Chan-o-cha, and he serves no purpose other than to give gift baskets to the divers. He also uses broken English (like Prayut himself), telling one diver: “Oh! You marry her, visa no problem.”

The Cave is one of only a handful of films to feature Thai Prime Ministers, due to censorship of political content and public apathy towards politics. A biopic of Plaek Phibunsongkhram was abandoned in 1988 due to a lawsuit from his estate. Similarly, a Sarit Thanarat biopic—provisionally titled จอมพล (‘marshal’)—was vetoed by the censors in 2002. Sarit did feature briefly in the horror movie Zee Oui: The Man-Eater (ซี-อุย), ordering the swift execution of Zee Oui for political expediency.

Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป’ไทย) discusses Thaksin Shinawatra, and the film’s distributor asked the director incredulously: “How can you put a film with Thaksin in the cinema?” Sulak Sivaraksa makes a similar point in the documentary itself, saying: “Your movie shouldn’t waste too much time on Thaksin.” (That line received applause at cinema screenings.)

In Ing Kanjanavanit’s banned Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย), Macbeth is reimagined as a Thaksin-like figure, and the similarity is noted self-referentially when a policeman says: “Your actor looks like our Dear Leader. Is this intentional?” Wisit Sasanatieng’s The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง) features a Prime Minister who abandons his principles once he assumes office, reneging on a pre-election pledge to ban nuclear power. In a Bangkok Post interview, Wisit claimed that he “didn’t set out to criticise any particular prime minister... I only want to mock those who began as good guys fighting for the poor, then, like Darth Vader, they become villains once they have power.” But that sounds awfully like a description of Thaksin.

The disaster movie Death Wave (13-04-2022 วันโลกสังหาร) features Thailand’s most ludicrous cinematic Prime Minister, portrayed as a holier-than-thou figure who selflessly sacrifices his career for the greater good: “the lives and safety of my people are more valuable than my assumed position... I’m willing to lose everything in exchange for the lives of my people.” He even becomes an action hero, rescuing a busload of drowning children while a news reporter praises “our Prime Minister’s fearless courage.” Needless to say, that PM was entirely fictional.

04 November 2019

Never Again

Never Again
Never Again
Never Again
Never Again
Thai political protesters of all persuasions have used clothing and accessories as markers of political identity. Medallions were distributed at the funerals of 13th October 1973 massacre victims. (Reproductions were issued with a book commemorating the event.) The UDD and PAD movements are both better known by the colour of their respective clothes—red-shirts and yellow-shirts—and both groups also used plastic hand-clappers at their rallies. Later, the PDRC protesters were nicknamed whistle-blowers, not because they were exposing corruption but because they blew whistles at their protests.

These simple artefacts are souvenirs of protests attended, and symbols of the deeply polarised nature of modern Thai politics. A collection of more recent political emphemera is currently on show in Bangkok, at the Never Again exhibition. The items on display, including UDD calendars and water bowls, were all declared illegal by the junta in the years following the 2014 coup. The exhibition also features a large collection of anti-junta t-shirts.

The main exhibit is the white shirt worn by New Democracy Movement member Sirawith Seritiwat when he was attacked by thugs on 28th June. His bloodstained shirt highlights the violence of the attack, and serves as a potent reminder of the anti-democratic vigilantism that has existed in Thailand for more than forty years. (Stickers from the New Democracy Movement are also included, though their banned ‘seven reasons to vote no’ leaflet is missing.)

Never Again: Seize, Trample, Repeat, Change (หยุด ย่ำ ซ้ำ เดิน) was organised by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, an NGO that also published the recent book ราษฎรกำแหง (‘dissident citizens’). The exhibition was previously held at Chiang Mai University (from 11th to 16th August), and is now at WTF Gallery (from 1st to 10th November).

02 November 2019

Short Film Marathon

Short Film Marathon
Short Film Marathon
100 Times Reproduction of Democracy
The annual Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน) began yesterday at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya. More than 400 films will be screened, in alphabetical order, until 12th December, and the cream of the crop will be selected for the forthcoming 23rd Short Film and Video Festival. Attendees at yesterday’s launch were given bib numbers, just like a real marathon. (Fortunately, no actual running was required.)

The first programme included Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s new film 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy (การผลิตซ้ำประชาธิปไตยให้กลายเป็นของแท้). The film begins with a self-reflexive commentary on artistic reproduction: 100 Times Reproduction of ‘A Cock Kills a Child by Pecking on the Mouth of an Earthen Jar’ (การผลิตซ้ำภาพยนตร์สั้นเรื่องไก่จิกเด็กตายบนปากโอ่งจำนวน 100 ครั้ง), which itself incorporates A Cock Kills a Child by Pecking on the Mouth of an Earthen Jar (ไก่จิกเด็กตายบนปากโอ่ง), Chulayarnnon’s award-winning entry at the 17th Short Film and Video Festival. Scenes from that film (a patient with arthritis exercising and visiting her doctor) are repeated, and the director sells 100 DVD copies of it and gives away 100 copies of his award certificate.

100 Times Reproduction of Democracy then transitions into the equally repetitive issue of Thai politics: the cycle of coups has been reproduced a dozen times since the democratic revolution of 1932. The film shows how one symbol can be replaced with another, with the removal of a plaque commemorating the revolution. Chulayarnnon also filmed the PDRC’s ‘Shutdown Bangkok’ rallies—as he did in Myth of Modernity and Here Comes the Democrat Party (ประชาธิปัตย์มาแล้ว)—and Rap Against Dictatorship’s performance of My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี) earlier this year. The song is juxtaposed with footage from Children’s Day of toddlers posing with tanks and machine guns, showing how militarism is inculcated at an extremely young age.

22 October 2019

Dog of God

Dog of God
Democrazy
Dog of God is the debut EP by Thai band Dogwhine, and is available on CD from the Ageha café in Bangkok. The EP includes a couple of overtly political tracks: Leader is a dig at unelected Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (“Leader must come from election”), and Democrazy comments on the country’s cycle of military violence (“Nowhere to hide, no way to run / Not your first time to see the dictator”).

The animated promo video for Democrazy features the folding chair and hanging corpse from Neal Ulevich’s famous photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre. (The video’s director is credited only by his nickname, Jung.) The song’s Democrazy pun echoes the name of Bangkok’s Democrazy Theatre Studio and the titles of the short films Democrazy.mov (by Thunsita Yanuprom and Sarun Channiam) and Demockrazy (by Duangporn Pakavirojkul).

Dogwhine are part of a wave of musicians using protest songs to comment on contemporary Thai politics. Rap Against Dictatorship’s anthemic My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี) is the most prominent example, though others include The Commoner’s EP สามัญชน (‘commoner’), P9d’s single Section 44, and the จะ4ปีแล้วนะ (‘four years already’) and BNK44 concerts.

16 October 2019

The Amazing Thai-Land

The Amazing Thai-Land
The Amazing Thai-Land
The Amazing Thai-Land
The Amazing Thai-Land
The Amazing Thai-Land, is graphic artist Chalermpol Junrayab’s debut solo exhibition. (The title is an ironic reappropriation of the Tourist Authority of Thailand’s slogan ‘Amazing Thailand’.) Chalermpol creates parodies of comic-book covers on his iPad, satirising Thai politics.

Junta leader and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is caricatured in several of Chalermpol’s prints. In Final Curve, for example, the 24th March election campaign is depicted as a dodgem race, which Prayut (car number 44) wins with the help of a turbo engine representing the 250 senators he appointed. Another print, Buddha Man, refers to the recent Ultraman Buddha controversy, with an inset portrait of the Buddha wearing Ultraman’s costume.

The Amazing Thai-Land opened on 12th October at Sathorn 11 Art Space in Bangkok. Free copies of Chalermpol’s 2019 desk calendar are available at the exhibition, which runs until 25th October. (Political calendars caused controversy in 2016 and 2018, when calendars promoting Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra were seized by the military.)

07 October 2019

ราษฎรกำแหง

ราษฎรกำแหง: บันทึก 9 คดี ต้านรัฐประหารในยุค คสช. (‘dissident citizens: nine cases against the NCPO coup’), edited by Noppon Archamas, examines the charges brought against pro-democracy activists since the 2014 coup. Its spine has an anti-coup message in Morse code (“..-. ..- -.-. -.- -.-. --- ..- .--.”), and its cover features the three-finger salute appropriated by anti-coup protesters from the film The Hunger Games.

28 August 2019

Elect After Election

Elect After Election
Elect After Election
Elect After Election
Elect After Election
The Elect After Election (เลือกแล้วได้อะไร? ประชาธิปไตยไทยหลังการเลือกตั้ง) installation features 750 seats, one for each of Thailand’s MPs and senators. The 500 appointed senators are represented by monoblok chairs, while the 250 elected politicians are symbolised by lowly stools. On the exhibition poster, the senators are depicted as tongue emojis, recalling Rap Against Dictatorship’s single 250 Bootlickers (250 สอพลอ).

In the centre of the installation is a blow-up figure with Prayut Chan-o-cha’s face, absurdly inflating and deflating in time to audio clips of Prayut’s parliamentary speeches. (Prayut, who led the 2014 coup, was appointed PM by the rubber-stamp National Legislative Assembly, and was reappointed after the 24th March election thanks to the votes of the hand-picked senators.)

Elect After Election was organised by Elect, a new NGO that aims to increase Thai public interest in politics and democracy. The exhibition opened yesterday at BACC in Bangkok, and will close on 1st September.

07 June 2019

“Everything stays the same...”

Gen Prayut wins PM vote
Coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha was confirmed as Thai Prime Minister again last night, after he received a total of 500 votes from MPs and senators. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the progressive Future Forward party, gained 244 votes. Prayut’s second term was never in any real doubt, as he could count on the votes of the 250 senators he had appointed. (The democratic 1997 constitution introduced a fully elected Senate, though it was only 50% elected following the military’s 2007 constitution. After Prayut’s 2014 coup, the latest charter allowed the junta to appoint every senator.)

Prayut was nominated as Prime Minister by the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), though they lost the 24th March election, with 97 constituency MPs. Pheu Thai won the highest number of parliamentary seats, 136, though they lacked an overall majority. The new constitution supplemented the ‘first past the post’ system with an element of proportional representation, though incredibly the Election Commission only confirmed its seat-allocation formula after the election had taken place. Following an unprecedented delay, the official results were announced six weeks after the election.

As expected, the Commission’s calculations favoured minor parties at the expense of Pheu Thai, to prevent another landslide by Thaksin Shinawatra’s party. (The PPRP gained a further nineteen MPs, taking their total to 116.) Other attempts to bend the rules in favour of Prayut include the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart party and various trumped-up charges against Thanathorn. (He is currently suspended from parliament pending an investigation into his shares in V-Luck Media, though he has already provided evidence that he sold them before becoming an MP.)

Immediately after the election, Pheu Thai, Future Forward, and five smaller parties signed up for an anti-Prayut alliance of 246 MPs, just shy of a parliamentary majority. Meanwhile, the PPRP joined with ten single-seat micro-parties and others to form a pro-military group of 150 MPs. Pressure to join the PPRP coalition was intense: one Future Forward politician, for example, revealed that he had been offered 120 million baht to switch sides.

Two medium-sized parties, the Democrats and Bhumjaithai, played hard to get, declaring their support for the PPRP only one day before the prime ministerial vote. This gave the PPRP a last-minute total of 254 seats, a slim majority. Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister and Democrat leader, resigned as an MP in protest at his party supporting Prayut. (During the election campaign, he had pledged to oppose Prayut’s candidacy, though after the election his party voted to break that commitment.)

Speaking to reporters today, Prayut said: “Everything stays the same.” After overthrowing a democratic government and being appointed Prime Minister by his hand-picked National Legislative Assembly, he has now been reappointed thanks to a rubber-stamp Senate and an acquiescent Election Commission. Prayut has ensured that, as so often in Thailand’s past, the military will dominate national politics for the foreseeable future.

28 February 2019

Thailand Casino

Thailand Casino
Y Card
Beautiful 6th Oct
Anonymous street artist Headache Stencil's exhibition Thailand Casino opened on 24th February at WTF Gallery, and runs until 31st March. It includes Beautiful 6th Oct, a stencil of the vigilante from Neal Ulevich's famous photograph showing the lynching of a student on 6th October 1976. Most provocatively, "Y" Card depicts the king of spades playing card with the face of coup leader and current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The exhibition's centrepiece is an installation featuring busts of Prayut and former PM Thaksin Shinawatra playing a high-stakes poker game for the future of Thailand. The installation is replete with symbolic references to the country's political, royal, and military power structures. Prayut is concealing the four of clubs and four of spades, a reference to his unlimited authority under article 44. The cards on the table include the nine of clubs (Rama IX) and ten of hearts (Rama X).

Behind Thaksin's bust is 8th Feb '19, a calendar marking the extraordinary day when one of Thaksin's proxy parties nominated Prince Ubolratana as its candidate for prime minister in the upcoming election. Prayut's backdrop is a map of Thailand featuring the word โกง ('cheat'). Merchandise on sale at the gallery includes the election campaign slogan "STOP DICTATORSHIP", though as the exhibition makes clear, the game is rigged: while Thaksin has more chips (indicating his personal wealth), Prayut has numerous hidden cards.

22 January 2019

More or Less

More or Less
More or Less
More or Less
More or Less
Miguel Januário's exhibition More or Less opened at Bangkok's WTF Gallery on 14th December last year, and runs until 19th February. The exhibition includes an interactive installation commenting on Thailand's political situation since the 2014 coup: a simulated polling station, complete with ballot papers, a pen, and a ballot box.

On closer inspection, the ballot papers are a parody of recent Thai political factions, and a Thai flag backdrop is overlaid with army camouflage to indicate the military's pervasive influence over the country. Also, the ballot box has no bottom, so ballot papers fall straight onto the floor, symbolising the futility of elections that are often invalidated (as in 2006 and 2014) or postponed. According to the junta, a return to democracy is always on the horizon, and elections are perpetually due 'next year'. In the meantime, gallery visitors can vote via Januário's ballot papers.

A month after the coup, on 28th June 2014, Prayut Chan-o-cha promised an election by October 2015. On 9th February 2015, he committed to an election by February 2016. On 9th August 2016, he announced that an election would take place by November 2017. On 10th October 2017, he gave assurances that an election would happen by November 2018. On 27th February 2018, he pledged an election by February 2019, though another delay seems inevitable.

09 January 2019

Khonkaen Manifesto

Khonkaen Manifesto
A Massacre
Red Faces
Junta Connection
Junta Connection
Khonkaen Manifesto (ขอนแก่น แมนิเฟสโต้), an exhibition of radical art, opened on 6th October last year. 6th October is, of course, infamous in Thailand, as a massacre took place at Thammasat University on 6th October 1976.

One of the installations in the exhibition, Nutdanai Jitbunjong's A Massacre, referred directly to that event: it consisted of a folding chair hanging from a noose, in reference to Neal Ulevich's photograph of a corpse being battered with a folding chair. Visitors to the exhibition were greeted by two Girl Scouts, an allusion to the Village Scouts militia group that took part in the massacre. (Ten Years Thailand also features children in Scout uniforms, another reference to the Village Scout vigilantes.)

Other works in the exhibition also made reference to instances of state violence. Zakariya Amataya's installation Report from a Partitioned Village (รายงานจากหมู่บ้านที่ถูกปิดล้อม) included a list of victims of the 2004 Tak Bai massacre. For his Red Faces series, Tawan Wattuya painted portraits of eighteen people killed on 10th April 2010, with red watercolour symbolising the blood of the victims.

Naturally, such politically sensitive subjects drew the attention of the military, and junta officials made regular visits to the exhibition in the days before and after it opened. As a result of this intimidation, a portrait of lèse-majesté convict Jatupat Boonpattararaksa was removed. (The painting, by Sermsilp Pairin, was part of a triptych, the others being portraits of politician Pridi Banomyong and writer Chit Phumisak.)

Some of the exhibition's remaining works were self-censored. For example, Junta Connection ('วิ่งผลัดเผด็จการ'), a mural by the Guerrilla Boys, originally depicted Sarit Thanarat passing his (literal) baton of dictatorship to Prayut Chan-o-cha, though the work was later modified to obscure their faces.

Khonkaen Manifesto ran from 6th to 26th October 2018 at the GF Building in Khon Kaen. Previous exhibitions in Thailand have also been censored for political reasons: photographs were removed from Rupture (หมายเหตุ ๕/๒๕๕๓) in 2010 and Whitewash (ไร้มลทิน) in 2017.