26 April 2021

The Patani Art of Struggle

The Patani Art of Struggle
The Patani Art of Struggle
Violence in Tak Bai
Violence in Tak Bai
Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh has led a burgeoning of contemporary art in Pattani and the other provinces near Thailand’s southern border, and The Patani Art of Struggle (ศิลปะปาตานี วิถีแห่งการดิ้นรน), a monograph on Jehabdulloh’s work, was published last year. (‘Patani’ refers to a formerly independent Malay Muslim sultanate that is now part of Thailand. Today, therefore, ‘Patani’ is a political term with separatist connotations.)

Jehabdulloh first came to prominence with Violence in Tak-Bai (ความรุนแรงที่ตากใบ): wooden grave markers arranged in a circle, commemorating the protesters who died in the 2004 Tak Bai massacre. The book reproduces a watercolour painting of the concept, and three versions of the installation in situ. It was first installed, just a few days after the massacre, at the Prince of Songkla University campus in Pattani, and the grave markers were accompanied by rifles wrapped in white cloth. In 2017, it was recreated at Patani Art Space and exhibited on a plinth containing Pattani soil at the Patani Semasa (ปาตานี ร่วมสมัย) exhibition. (The exhibition catalogue gives it a milder alternative title, Remember at Tak-Bai.)

Since 2013, Jehabdulloh has incorporated images of weapons such as guns and hand grenades into his paintings, a reminder of the continuing conflict between the Thai military and separatist insurgents. The book highlights the financial and human cost of the military operation: “The Thai government has spent 206,094 million baht to solve and alleviate the conflicts in Southern Thailand over the past ten years... Is fighting violence with violence an effective solution?” Yuthlert Sippapak’s film Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ) poses the same question, as he explained when I interviewed him: “‘เหตุการณ์สงบงบไม่มา’—‘if no war, no money’. Money is power. And the person who created the war is the military.

The Patani Art of Struggle, housed in a die-cut slipcase, was edited by Apichaya O-in and Ekkarin Tuansiri. Its Malay title is سني ڤتاني چاراو او سها.

20 April 2021

Lets Kill

Thai experimental noise band Gamnad737’s album Lets Kill [sic] includes several tracks with anti-government titles: Kill the Government, Kill the Dicktatorship, and Kill the Section 44. Section 44 is a reference to article 44 of the interim constitution, which granted absolute power to the 2014 military junta. Similarly, P9d’s rap album RAW Jazz Effect includes the track Section 44, which begins with the unambiguous line “Fuck the section 44”.

Lets Kill is available on cassette and CD, and in a unique CD edition splattered with founding member Arkat Vinyapiroath’s blood. (The blood-splattered edition also comes complete with two vials of Arkat’s blood, and it remains unsold almost three years after its release.) Gamnad737’s latest release is the Drilling Technique cassette EP (which includes a grisly photo of a Jeffrey Dahmer victim). Arkat is also the bassist for thrash metal band Killing Fields, whose most recent EP is Death to Dictator.

การเมืองโมเบียส

Wad Rawee
Wad Rawee’s book การเมืองโมเบียส: การเมืองและเรื่องเล่าว่าด้วย ศีลธรรมที่ไม่มีด้านตรงข้าม (‘Möbius politics: politics and narratives, morality without opposition’) examines Thai politics and the monarchy since the Thaksin Shinawatra administration. The cover illustration shows Bangkok’s Democracy Monument as a military complex in a dystopian future. Jakkapan Kangwan’s new novel Altai Villa (อัลไตวิลล่า) also features the Monument on its cover. On the cover of the second edition of Sulak Sivaraksa’s book หกทศวรรษประชาธิปไตย (‘six decades of democracy’), the Monument is represented as a jigsaw with one piece—containing the constitution—missing.

Death to Dictator

Death to Dictator
Death to Dictator, the latest EP by Thai thrash metal band Killing Fields, was released last year on cassette. The cover illustration, by Slaughterhouse21, depicts the skeleton of the army chief with a bullet hole through his head, and a cobwebbed Democracy Monument. The Monument has appeared on several previous album covers, such as the สามัญชน (‘commoner’) EP by The Commoner, ดอกไม้พฤษภา (‘May flower’) by Zuzu, and the compilation ตุลาธาร ๑๔ คน ๑๔ เพลง ต้องห้าม (‘14th October: 14 artists, 14 forbidden songs’).

The Death to Dictator EP includes a live version of 6th October, a track from the band’s previous album, Gigantrix Extinction. The cassette features the Dolby logo, though this is presumably an error, as Dolby noise reduction is no longer licensed to cassette releases. Bassist Arkat Vinyapiroath is also the founding member of experimental noise band Gamnad737.

19 April 2021

Altai Villa

Altai Villa
Altai Villa (อัลไตวิลล่า: เรื่องราวขำขื่นในนครขื่นขม), the new novel by Jakkapan Kangwan, was published last week. Like Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’) and Duanwad Pimwana’s ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว (‘indescribable fiction’), it makes direct reference to recent Thai politics.

Altai Villa is a new community of self-described ‘good people’ (a loaded phrase in Thailand, as it refers to establishment figures who are portrayed as paragons of virtue), established following a coup, and the rights of its citizens are imperceptibly eroded. Just in case any readers failed to grasp the satirical metaphor, the subtext is clarified in chapter twenty-six when one of the ‘good people’ pledges to return happiness to the population, a reference to the 2014 junta’s propaganda song Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย).

The novel features Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on its cover, with a tank in the foreground. (Throughout the book, illustrations show the Monument in various stages of completion.) Similarly, the cover of Wad Rawee’s book การเมืองโมเบียส (‘Möbius politics’) shows Democracy Monument as a military complex. On the cover of the second edition of Sulak Sivaraksa’s book หกทศวรรษประชาธิปไตย (‘six decades of democracy’), Democracy Monument is represented as a jigsaw with one piece—containing the constitution—missing.

18 April 2021

ไข่แมวX

Khai Maew
Happy Boy
ไข่แมวX, by the anonymous Facebook cartoonist Khai Maew, was released this month. The book features the best of Khai Maew’s satirical cartoons from the past four years, including several parodies of the 2019 election campaign. Minimal context is provided alongside each cartoon (as Khai Maew’s work is usually presented without captions, to allow for multiple interpretations), including a reprint of the manifesto for monarchy reform also published in ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August’).

At the back of the book are a handful of new cartoons that are too sensitive to publish on the artist’s Facebook page (though even the cover illustration is also potentially taboo-breaking, albeit indirectly). The book’s final image borrows a motif from The Last Monument by another anonymous satirist, Headache Stencil.

Like Chalermpol Junrayab’s Amazing Thai-land series, Khai Maew combines superhero characters and political figures in his satirical cartoons. Both artists’ works are distributed primarily on Facebook, and they have both branched out with exhibitions, calendars, and books. Khai Maew’s first exhibition, Kalaland, was held in 2018, and Chalermpol’s took place a year later.

Khai Maew has also produced satirical merchandise, including soft toys and other items based on his recurring Thaksin Shinawatra and Prayut Chan-o-cha characters. In 2016, he created Happy Boy, a miniature plastic model of the smiling child seen in Neal Ulevich’s photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre.

07 April 2021

Come and See

Come and See
After Nottapon Boonprakob submitted his documentary Come and See (เอหิปัสสิโก) to the Thai censorship board, they phoned him and explained that some board members had reservations about it. Would he mind if they rejected the film, they asked. Naturally, he did mind, so they invited him to a meeting. After the phone call, the Thai Film Director Association publicised the case online, and the stage was set for another Thai film censorship controversy. However, when Nottapon met the censors on 10th March, they told him that there was no problem, and the film was passed uncut with a universal ‘G’ rating.

It’s likely that the censors capitulated as a result of the publicity generated by their rather naïve phone call. The earlier case of Nontawat Numbenchapol’s Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง) was very similar: that film’s ban was swiftly reversed following online publicity about it. (Nontawat’s film was subject to a token cut, imposed to save the face of the censorship board who had originally banned it.)

Come and See and Boundary are both documentaries about controversial temples. In Boundary’s case, the controversy was territorial, with Thailand and Cambodia both claiming ownership of the disputed Preah Vihear on the border between the two countries. Come and See, on the other hand, examines the cult-like practices of the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple complex (in Pathum Thani province, near Bangkok) and its former abbot, Dhammajayo, who has long been suspected of money laundering.

Dhammakaya is a Buddhist sect recognised by the Sangha Supreme Council, though it closely resembles a cult. Dhammakaya supporters are encouraged to make large financial donations in return for their salvation, and thousands of followers have given their savings to the temple. (Come and See interviews both current devotees and disaffected former members.) After Dhammajayo was accused of corruption, a declaration of his innocence was added to the temple’s morning prayers. (The film shows temple visitors reciting this like a mantra.)

The Dhammakaya complex itself is only twenty years old, and its design is inherently cinematic. The enormous Cetiya temple resembles a golden UFO, and temple ceremonies are conducted on an epic scale, with tens of thousands of monks and worshippers arranged with geometric precision. The temple cooperated with Nottapon, though his access was limited. Come and See doesn’t investigate the allegations against Dhammajayo, though it does provide extensive coverage of the 2016 DSI raid on the temple and Dhammajayo’s subsequent disappearance.

One of the film’s interviewees, a Buddhist scholar, hits the nail on the head when he argues that the long-running Dhammakaya scandal is not an anomaly; rather, Dhammakaya is simply a more extreme version of contemporary Thai Buddhism, which has become increasingly capitalist. Come and See also hints at the institutional corruption and hidden networks of influence that characterise the modern Thai state.

04 April 2021

จวบจันทร์แจ่มฟ้านภาผ่อง

Thanavi Chotpradit
Thanavi Chotpradit’s จวบจันทร์แจ่มฟ้านภาผ่อง: ศิลปะและศิลปินแห่งรัชสมัยรัชกาลที่ 9 (‘when the moon is high, the sky turns bright and blue: art and artists in the reign of King Rama IX’) was published last year by Same Sky Books. The book is from the same series as Nattapoll Chaiching’s ขอฝันใฝ่ในฝันอันเหลือเชื่อ (‘I dream an incredible dream’). Thanavi has also written Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย), a visual record of the 6th October 1976 massacre.

จวบจันทร์แจ่มฟ้านภาผ่อง includes chapters on specific exhibitions, such as Rupture (whose Thai title, หมายเหตุ ๕/๒๕๕๓, was changed to minimise any reference to the May 2010 military crackdown), Prapat Jiwarangsan’s I’ll Never Smile Again (a song title, though also a pun on The King Never Smiles), and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Green (a reference to Barnett Newman’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue series of abstract paintings). It also examines art made in response to the lèse-majesté law.

01 April 2021

“Thailand’s complainer-in-chief...”

Chian Mai University
Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Fine Arts has been criticised for censoring political artworks created by a pair of students. The row is centred on a banner representing the Thai flag, with the central blue stripe replaced by transparent material. The flag’s blue stripe symbolises the monarchy, thus the banner could be interpreted as a republican statement. It was removed by the dean of the Faculty on 22nd March.

Two days later, the University issued a statement in support of the dean, noting that the banner was a potentially illegal alteration of the flag. On 26th March, Srisuwan Janya, head of the Constitution Protection Association pressure group, filed a complaint with Chiang Mai police accusing the artists of violating the Flag Act of 1979. Lèse-majesté charges are also likely. The Flag Act prohibits “any act in an insulting manner to the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flag”. Srisuwan, a self-appointed moral guardian, was dubbed “Thailand’s complainer-in-chief” by the Bangkok Post in a headline on 18th March 2019.

The banner is similar to an artwork by Mit Jai Inn shown at last year’s Status in Statu exhibition. Mit’s installation, titled Republic of Siam, was a large roll of fabric with a pattern of red and white stripes: like the student’s banner, it resembled a Thai flag without the blue stripe.

27 March 2021

ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว

Duanwad Pimwana
Duanwad Pimwana’s latest novel, ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว: นิยมนิยายอันเหลือจะบรรยาย (‘indescribable fiction: unspoken dreams’), was published last year. Duanwad, a pen name for Pimjai Juklin, is one of Thailand’s leading contemporary writers, and ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว was inspired by Don Quixote, the first novel in the Western canon.

Duandwad has spoken out in opposition to the current military government, and the novel takes place in the chaotic atmosphere of the 2013 PDRC protests leading up to the 2014 coup. Her political stance is clear from chapter seven: its title, แผนฆ่าประชาธิปไตยในห้องปิดตาย, refers to the death of democracy.

Uthis Haemamool’s recent novel ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’) also comments on the 2014 coup. Duanwad wrote a chapter in the anthology Remembrances of Red Trauma (1 ทศวรรษ พฤษภาฯ เลือดปี ’53), reflecting on the impact of the 2010 massacre on Thai literature.

22 March 2021

Derivatives and Integrals

Derivatives and Integrals
Derivatives and Integrals
Derivatives and Integrals
Derivatives and Integrals (อนุพันธ์ และปริพันธ์) opened at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok on 5th March, and runs until 10th April (extended from 28th March). The exhibition includes a copy of the banned book The King Never Smiles on a small Buddhist altar, though the cover photograph has been replaced by a photo of Stephen King. All ‘sensitive’ text on the book jacket has been covered by the logo of the anonymous artist กูKult, whose exhibition this is. (The artist is due in court today, charged under the Computer Crime Act and the lèse-majesté law.)

On closer inspection, the book on the altar is not actually The King Never Smiles: inside the dust jacket is another hardback of the same size, the first volume of Continuous Multivariate Distributions. (Revealing this feels a bit like pulling back the curtains on the Wizard of Oz, though of course that’s also what the exhibition is doing.)

Propping up the altar is another book, a Thai self-help guide, though a simple equation has been written on its cover (one interpretation of which could involve regnal numbers and a gun calibre). The exhibition’s full title is a more complex algebraic expression, \frac{df\left({x}\right)}{dx}\Bigg\vert_{x=c}\wedge\int_{a}^{b}f\left({x}\right)dx.

20 March 2021

สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย

Democracy Restoration Group
Royal Thai Police
This afternoon, police searched the offices of Same Sky Books and confiscated 10,000 copies of a booklet by pro-democracy protest leader Arnon Nampa. The booklet, สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย (‘the monarchy and Thai society’), contains the text of a speech delivered by Arnon at Democracy Monument on 3rd August 2020.

The booklet’s publishers, the Democracy Restoration Group campaign, announced yesterday that it would be given away at a REDEM protest rally at Sanam Luang this evening, and many copies were distributed there despite the police seizure. (Arnon had previously distributed small quantities of the booklet last year.) Riot police used water cannon, tear gas, and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, as they had on 28th February.

Today’s police raid has echoes of an almost identical case last year, when an announcement that a similar booklet would be given away at a protest drew the attention of the authorities. That booklet—ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August’)—was also seized by police before the rally, though some copies were eventually distributed.

15 March 2021

Micro Politics

Micro Politics
Micro Politics, published in 2018, is a collection of four contemporary Thai plays and theatre performances: The Disappearance of the Boy on a Sunday Afternoon (การหายตัวไปของเด็กชายในบ่ายวันอาทิตย์) by Thanaphon Accawatanyu, A Nowhere Place (ที่ ไม่มีที่) by Pradit Prasartthong, Bang La Merd (บางละเมิด) by Ornanong Thaisriwong, and Hipster the King by Thanaphol Virulhakul. The scripts are printed in both Thai and English, and the book also includes interviews with each playwright.

The four works were all performed in the aftermath of the 2014 coup, at a time of increased political repression. Military officers attended and videotaped almost all performances of Bang La Merd, in an act of intimidation through state surveillance. As the publishers explain in their introduction, the collection is “a chronicle of social changes during those trying times, reflecting on the effects of the regime on individuals, questioning the events, and offering insights towards political problems in Thailand.”

12 March 2021

Coup, King, Crisis

Coup, King, Crisis
After “Good Coup” Gone Bad, Pavin Chachavalpongpun has turned his attention to the 2006 coup’s more repressive sequel: the 2014 coup (from Bad to worse, as it were). Coup, King, Crisis: A Critical Interregnum in Thailand, edited by Pavin, focuses on Thai politics under the junta and the succession from Rama IX to Rama X. (After the Coup is an earlier anthology of essays on the 2014 coup.)

Pavin’s introduction summarises the 2019 election anomalies and the “political earthquake” of Thai Raksa Chart and Princess Ubolratana, though these really require their own chapters. Sarah Bishop writes about the Thai Raksa Chart dissolution, refuting the notion of ‘judicial coups’, though her argument is unconvincing as she ignores the Constitutional Court’s disqualifications of Samak Sundaravej, Somchai Wongsawat, Yingluck Shinawatra, and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. (For a more persuasive analysis of the politicised judiciary, see Eugénie Mérieau’s chapter in Military, Monarchy and Repression.)

The most interesting contributions are Kevin Hewison’s chapter on the royal succession, Paul M. Handley’s updating of The King Never Smiles, Tyrell Haberkorn’s discussion of Mor Yong, a primer on military factions by Paul Chambers (co-editor of Khaki Capital), and an account of self-censorship by David Streckfuss (author of Truth on Trial in Thailand). Streckfuss discusses the use of metaphor by writers and artists as a strategy to evade censorship, noting the “tension between letting readers in on the joke and somehow concealing it from the authorities”, citing the short story Hakom and the film Cemetery of Splendour as examples.

10 March 2021

“I have realized the wickedness of a
person who calls himself a scholar...”

Nattapoll Chaiching
Nattapoll Chaiching
Historian Nattapoll Chaiching’s book ขุนศึก ศักดินา และพญาอินทรี การเมืองไทยภายใต้ระเบียบโลกของสหรัฐอเมริกา 2491-2500 (‘feudal warlords and the eagle: Thai politics and the United States 1948-1957’), about Thailand’s relationship with the US during the Cold War, was a runaway bestseller among liberals and political enthusiasts when it was published last year. His earlier work, ขอฝันใฝ่ในฝันอันเหลือเชื่อ ความเคลื่อนไหวของขบวนการปฏิปักษ์ปฏิวัติสยาม (พ.ศ. 2475-2500) (‘I dream an incredible dream: the anti-Siamese revolutionary movement 1932-1957’), published in 2013, also saw a revival in sales after it was among five titles seized by police from the offices of the publisher, Same Sky Books.

Nattapoll has been heavily criticised by conservatives, culminating in a lawsuit issued on 5th March. In December last year, Chaiyand Chaiyaporn, a professor at Chulalongkorn University, accused him of falsifying references in the Ph.D. thesis on which his Cold War book was based. A week later, an ultra-royalist former monk, Suwit Thongprasert, accused him of lèse-majesté: “I have realized the wickedness of a person who calls himself a scholar and has got a Ph.D. who dared to develop a thesis with false information... harmful towards the royal institution.” (Suwit’s statement was issued under his monastic title Buddha Issara, though he was defrocked in 2018 as a result of his role in the 2014 PDRC protests.)

Last week, aristocrat Priyanandana Rangsit sued Nattapoll and Same Sky Books for defamation, seeking ฿50 million in damages. According to the lawsuit, Nattapoll’s books incorrectly assert that her grandfather, Prince Rangsit Prayurasakdi, sought an improper political influence over Phibun Songkhram’s government in the 1940s. She argues that this misrepresentation of her ancestor—who died seventy years ago—tarnishes her family name, and is thus defamatory to her personally.

05 March 2021

Thai Cinema Uncensored

Art Review
My book Thai Cinema Uncensored is reviewed in the March issue of Art Review magazine (volume 73, number 1), on page 111. Reviewer Max Crosbie-Jones writes: “Thais and Thailand watchers will recognise the bigger story, an all-too-common narrative arc streaked with moments of fear, absurdity and humour, in Hunt’s lingering closeups on the mangled, hidden wreckage of film censorship.”

01 March 2021

REDEM

REDEM
Restart Thailand
Riot police fired rubber bullets last night, when a protest near Prayut Chan-o-cha’s residence turned violent. The police also deployed rubber batons, tear gas, and water cannon against the protesters. More than 1,000 people had gathered at Victory Monument in Bangkok yesterday afternoon, before marching to the Viphavadi Rangsit Road military barracks where Prayut resides. They attempted to remove shipping containers that the authorities had installed as a barrier, and threw rocks and other projectiles at the police. There were injuries on both sides, and a police officer suffered a fatal heart attack.

The protest was organised by REDEM (Restart Democracy), a rebranding of the Free Youth movement. (Free Youth had previously relaunched as Restart Thailand, though their RT logo, with its Communist hammer and sickle design, raised concerns among other pro-democracy groups.) REDEM issued a manifesto on 24th February, with three demands: a reduction in state spending on the monarchy, the removal of the military’s political influence, and a welfare state to ensure economic equality.

Last night represents an escalation of tensions between protesters and the authorities, and marks the first use of rubber bullets by the police since the protests began last year. It also indicates a more aggressive approach by elements of the protest movement, which is increasingly fragmented and leaderless. The various protest groups have differing demands, some of which are viewed as too extreme by potential allies. Protest leaders Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, Arnon Nampa, Parit Chirawak, and Panupong Jadnok, amongst others, are facing multiple charges including sedition and lèse-majesté.

24 February 2021

Bangkok Screening Room

Bangkok Screening Room
The Third Man
Bangkok Screening Room, the boutique independent cinema, will be closing at the end of next month. Like other entertainment venues in Bangkok and elsewhere, BKKSR has borne the brunt of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. All cinemas in Bangkok were closed in April and May last year, during the country’s first coronavirus lockdown, and since reopening they have been operating at limited capacity to maintain social distancing.

BKKSR opened in 2016, and quickly established itself as the city’s leading arthouse cinema. It offered a unique Hollywood and world cinema repertory programme, plus screenings of contemporary Thai indie films, and revivals of Thai classics. The BKKSR team also curated seasons dedicated to marginalised filmmakers, including an LGBT+ Film Festival, a Global Migration Film Festival, and a Fem Film Festival.

BKKSR’s inaugural screening was The Third Man, starring Orson Welles, and fittingly this classic film noir will also be the last film screened there, on 31st March. (It will also be shown on 19th, 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, and 28th March.) BKKSR is the second Bangkok cinema to close as a result of the pandemic, after the Scala shut its doors last year. (Also, Cinema Oasis has been closed indefinitely since last March.)

23 February 2021

Cinema Lecture

Vertigo
Persona
In March and April, the Thai Film Archive will show a range of classic films introduced by academics and film critics. The Cinema Lecture season includes Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo on 3rd April and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona on 24th April. The screenings are free of charge.

Vertigo, voted the greatest film ever made in the 2012 Sight and Sound poll, has previously been shown at Bangkok Screening room in 2016 and at Cinema Winehouse in 2018. Persona was screened twice in 2014, at Thammasat University and Jam Café.

15 February 2021

Thai Cinema Uncensored

The Big Chilli
The first print review of my book Thai Cinema Uncensored has been published, in The Big Chilli magazine. The full-page article is on page 25 of the January issue.