13 July 2021

Dismantle

Dismantle
God Is Dead
Who Will Stop the Rain 5th October 1976
Dao Siam What a Wonderful World
The Sound of Silence 5th October 1976
Daily News Have You Ever Seen the Rain
The group exhibition Dismantle (ปลด) opened yesterday at Joyman Gallery in Bangkok. Although scheduled to run until 22nd August, it will be on hiatus for a fortnight as the city entered a two-week lockdown today, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Each of the works on display makes a strong political statement, though the most provocative are Kespada Moonsuwan’s oil painting God Is Dead (a head shrouded in red silk) and Narath Boriboonhiranthana’s holographic video projection I Will Wear Red at Your Funeral (a woman dancing in front of an upturned urn; ฉันหวังให้คุณตายและฉันจะใส่ชุดสีแดงในงานศพของคุณ). Both works refer to the same person, who is, of course, not mentioned by name.

The gallery is dimly lit, and the walls are painted black, making the black labels accompanying each exhibit almost illegible. This is presumably intentional, as the explanatory texts are sometimes incendiary. In his artist’s statement, Kesapada says: “I WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE RUMOR TURNING TO THE REAL STORY” [sic], a reference to a recent viral rumour. In her statement, Narath is equally blunt: “I HOPE YOU DIE, AND I AM GOING TO WEAR A RED DRESS IN YOUR FUNERAL” [sic].

Thasnai Sethaseree, a lecturer at Chiang Mai University who publicly defended two students after they created a banner representing the Thai flag, has produced a series of four painted collages for the exhibition. Each painting reproduces the front page of a Thai newspaper dated 5th October 1976, the day before the 6th October massacre. Thasnai has covered the headlines in bright colours and given them optimistic titles taken from vintage pop songs, to show how the news coverage of the period ignored the impending political crisis.

The four collages are: Have You Ever Seen the Rain, based on the front page of Daily News (เดลินิวส์); Who Will Stop the Rain, based on เสียง ปวงชน (‘the people’s voice’); What a Wonderful World, based on Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม); and The Sound of Silence, based on ชาวไทย (‘people of Thailand’). Other Thai newspaper front pages from October 1976 are reprinted in Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย).

11 July 2021

A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise

A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise
The Death in 2020-2021
A Blue Man I
Anuwat Apimukmongkon’s exhibition A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise opened this afternoon at VS Gallery in Bangkok, though it will be closed for the next fortnight as the city begins a two-week lockdown tomorrow, due to the coronavirus pandemic. (The exhibition was originally scheduled to run from 24th April to 20th June.)

The centrepiece, The Death in 2020-2021 [sic], is a vast, 10m-long canvas depicting the eponymous blue man amongst a sea of dead bodies. An inflatable yellow duck is also present, in reference to the protesters who used inflatable ducks to defend themselves from water cannon last October and November. The blue man also appears in a group of smaller paintings, this time in various sexual positions. In A Blue Man I, he is at the centre of an orgy, a representation of corrupt decadence similar to Vasan Sitthiket’s Ten Evil Scenes of Thai Politic [sic].

Unlike Manit Sriwanichpoom’s equally incongruous pink man (พิ้งค์แมน), the blue man’s colour has a symbolic meaning in Thailand, and he wears an ornate crown (of gold leaf). An artist’s statement affixed to the gallery wall offers some context: “With a knife in his hand, a blue man wounds people who denied him, also anyone who have no faith in his love” [sic]. This allusion to lèse-majesté is reinforced by the exhibition’s title, as Rama X described Thailand as “the land of compromise” during a walkabout on 2nd November last year.

26 June 2021

The L/Royal Monument

The L/Royal Monument
Intersection of Wills
Captain Justice
The Masterpiece
Prior to 2014, Wittawat Tongkeaw was known primarily for his landscape paintings, though since the coup his art has become increasingly political. The works in his new exhibition The L/Royal Monument (นิ/ราษฎร์) at Subhashok Arts Center in Bangkok, displayed in four themed sections, provide a commentary on modern Thai politics expressed through coded metaphors and symbolism.

The exhibition’s first room, Interlude, draws on Wittawat’s background as a landscape painter, though these landscapes have political subtexts. Two of the paintings refer to the 2010 massacre of red-shirt protesters: Intersection of Wills (ราษฎร์​ประสงค์) shows Ratchaprasong, the focal point of the protest, and Interregnum (สิ้นสุดพุทธาวาส) depicts a relief sculpture from Wat Pathum Wanaram, a temple sheltering six protesters who were killed by military snipers. Like Pachara Piyasongsoot’s Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ), these paintings represent politically-loaded locations; to use Dutch painter Armando’s term, they are ‘guilty landscapes’. The theme of this first room is transition, symbolised by expansive sunsets and tiny details (a traffic light about to turn green). The political significance of this transition is suggested by the exhibition’s other rooms.

The second room, Imagining Law-abiding Citizens, features paintings of four pro-democracy campaigners, all of whom have been charged with lèse-majesté. They include Captain Justice (ทนายอานนท์), a portrait of Arnon Nampa, who led protests last year calling for reform of the monarchy; and The Unforgiven Blues (หมอลำแบงค์), a portrait of Patiwat Saraiyaem, an actor who was jailed for his performance in the play เจ้าสาวหมาป่า (‘the wolf bride’) and later appeared in Ten Years Thailand. Each portrait has a blue background, in an allusion to that colour’s idiomatic and symbolic meanings: blue indicates the artist’s sadness at the persecution of the four subjects, though it also traditionally represents the monarchy, as in Wittawat’s previous exhibition, 841.594.

The other two rooms, Memorabilia and The Artist’s Trial, feature installations and projections. In the latter room is Jojo and the Bookstalk (โจโจ้ผู้ฆ่ายักษ์), a precarious pile of books and journals, the texts that led to Wittawat’s political awakening, known in Thai as ta sawang. Two other installations in the same room are especially provocative Creation-Conclusion (เริ่ม-จบ) is a painting of the sky on an upturned easel, and The Masterpiece (มาสเตอร์พีซ) is a weather-beaten painting hung back-to-front. The Thai word for ‘sky’ (fah) is a metaphor for the monarchy, and the upturned easel resembles a contraption more commonly associated with the French Revolution. The subject of the back-to-front portrait can be guessed from its propagandistic original title, พระเกียรติคุณ กว้างใหญ่ไพศาล (‘his honour spread far and wide’), which is still faintly visible on the reverse.

The L/Royal Monument opened at SAC Gallery in Bangkok on 22nd June, and runs until 18th September. Its opening coincides with the anniversary of Thailand’s 1932 transition to constitutional monarchy and, as Wittawat writes in the exhibition brochure, the “physical components—names, plaques, monuments” commemorating this have been systematically removed from public spaces.

03 June 2021

“Do you hear the people sing?”

Reform
The Commoner
Ta Lu Fah
Paeng Surachet
In 2018, Rap Against Dictatorship’s single My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี) encapsulated the frustrations of anti-coup protesters. In 2020, when the protests expanded to include calls for reform of the monarchy, the band released Reform (ปฏิรูป), a song whose lyrics address Prayut Chan-o-cha and King Rama X directly. (Lines such as “pawns have a king captured” in the song’s official English translation are even more blunt than the Thai original.)

The video for Reform—blocked by the government on YouTube—was filmed at Siam Square in Bangkok on 16th October 2020, and includes footage of riot police using water cannon to disperse the protesters. The music video for Elevenfinger’s เผด็จกวยหัวคาน (‘get rid of the dickhead’) was also filmed during the protests, and is even more confrontational than Reform. Elevenfinger hurls insults at Prayut and others, and lyrics such as “ละควรรีบๆตาย” (‘hurry up and die’) are as subtle as a brick through a window.

The lyrics of another recent song are addressed directly to Rama X: Paeng Surachet’s กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ (‘very brave, very good, thank you’). Its title is an ironic appropriation of a comment made by the King to one of his supporters during a walkabout on 23rd October 2020, and its lyric video features animated yellow ducks in reference to the inflatable ducks used by protesters to protect themselves from water cannon.

Paeng’s song takes the form of a breakup message to an unfaithful lover, with lines such as “ประนีประนอมได้ไหม ไม่ compromise นะถ้าทำตัวเเบบนี้” (‘Can we compromise? No, I won’t compromise if you behave this way’). ‘Compromise’ is a reference to a comment by the King on another walkabout: on 2nd November 2020, he told a reporter that “Thailand is the land of compromise.” Paeng later released a music video for the song, featuring protest leaders Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul and Parit Chirawak in angel costumes.

Panusaya and Parit also performed guest vocals on a new version of The Commoner’s track Commoner’s Anthem (บทเพลงของสามัญชน), released last month with a music video featuring footage of pro-democracy protests. (Parit was recently hospitalised after going on hunger strike for forty-six days, and was released on bail on 11th May; Panusaya was bailed on 6th May.) The Commoner’s video คนที่คุณก็รู้ว่าใคร (‘you know who’) also features protest footage, and Parit and Panusaya are name-checked in the lyrics of Hockhacker’s song Pirates (โจรสลัด).

Protesters have also reappropriated existing songs. Do You Hear the People Sing? (from the stage musical Les Misérables) was sung at several of last year’s protests in place of the national anthem. Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan performed his hit single 12345 I Love You at a protest near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on 14th November 2020, leading the crowd in chants of “ai hia Tu” instead of “I love you” during the chorus. (Ai hia is a strong insult, and Tu is Prayut’s nickname.) Chaiamorn was released on bail on 11th May, after burning a portrait of Rama X outside Bangkok’s Klongprem prison on 28th February.

Chaiamorn also performed 12345 I Love You outside Thanyaburi Provincial Court on 14th January, with Phromsorn Weerathamjaree, leading to lèse-majesté charges being filed against both of them. Whereas Chaiamorn usually sang Prayut’s nickname during the chorus, at Thanyaburi they used a nickname for the King instead. Phromsorn was also charged with lèse-majesté for singing three traditional royalist songs at the same event—สดุดีมหาราชา (‘praise the King’), ต้นไม้ของพ่อ (‘father’s tree’), and ในหลวงของแผ่นดิน (‘the king of the land’)—which he performed with altered lyrics.

Ai hia Tu” also appears in the lyrics of Rap Against Dictatorship’s latest single, ทะลุฟ้า (‘through the sky’), and another line—“Burn this image”—is also a reference to Chaiamorn. The ‘sky’ in the title is metaphorical, and the lyrics refer indirectly to “someone in the sky. Fuck knows he’s alive.” (This is a reference to a recent rumour that went viral online.) The music video, directed by Teeraphan Ngowjeenanan, includes footage of recent REDEM protests, which also feature in the lyrics (“Gunshots from the police as REDEM marches in line”).

11 May 2021

Artn’t

Vitthaya Klangnil
This morning, two Chiang Mai University art students facing criminal charges turned their police summonse into a performance art event. Outside the police station, Vitthaya Klangnil carved “112” into his chest with a knife, in a protest against article 112 of the Thai criminal code (lèse-majesté). Vitthaya and fellow student Yotsunthon Ruttapradit have been charged with contravening the lèse-majesté law and the Flag Act, following their display of a banner depicting the Thai flag without its central blue stripe (which symbolises the monarchy).

The two students are co-founders of the art group Artn’t. They displayed their modified flag in March at the Faculty of Fine Arts, and the Constitution Protection Association (a self-appointed moral watchdog) filed charges against them under the Flag Act, which prohibits “any act in an insulting manner to the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flag”. The lèse-majesté charges stem from anti-monarchy graffiti written on the artwork.

The students were both released on bail this afternoon. (Parit Chirawak and Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan were also bailed today.) The banner is similar to a piece 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, thus it also resembled a Thai flag without the symbolic blue stripe.

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.

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.

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.

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.

04 February 2021

“If things go wrong,
the government cannot sue...”

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is now facing another lèse-majesté charge, relating to a television interview he gave to Al Jazeera English broadcast on 29th January. Thanathorn highlighted a hypothetical consequence of the deal between AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience to produce coronavirus vaccines in Thailand. He noted that—as Siam Bioscience is a Crown Property Bureau company, and thus ultimately under the King’s prerogative—“if things go wrong, the government cannot sue the owner of the company.”

Thanathorn made similar comments in a Facebook Live video on 18th January, and is facing lèse-majesté and Computer Crime charges as a result. He was also charged under the Computer Crime Act in relation to another Facebook Live video, streamed on 29th June 2018. After his Future Forward Party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court last year, it was rebranded as Move Forward, a progressive movement calling for military reform, which may explain the continuing intimidation of Thanathorn by the authorities.

01 January 2021

ปฏิทินพระราชทาน

Khana Ratsadon
Yesterday, a member of the pro-democracy group Khana Ratsadon was arrested at home and charged with lèse-majesté. Police also confiscated 174 desk calendars, which had been sold online by the group since Boxing Day.

The calendars feature cartoon drawings of yellow ducks, which became a pro-reform symbol after protesters used inflatable rubber ducks to defend themselves against water cannon on 17th November last year (as seen in Sorayos Prapapan’s short documentary Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship). Khana Ratsadon’s fake banknotes featuring a similar yellow duck symbol are also under investigation.

The lèse-majesté charge stems from the calendar’s title and two of its illustrations. According to the police, the title—ปฏิทินพระราชทาน (‘royal calendar’)—implies that the calendar is an official publication rather than a parody. One drawing features the words “กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ” (‘very brave, very good, thank you’), spoken by King Rama X during a walkabout on 23rd October last year. The other controversial picture shows a yellow duck with a bead of sweat on its beak: a reference to King Rama IX, who was photographed with a bead of sweat on his nose, symbolising his hard work.

This is the fourth calendar to be investigated by the Thai authorities in recent years. Wall calendars featuring greetings from Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawawtra were seized in 2018 and 2016. In 2010, a wall calendar by the beer company Leo, featuring models in body paint, was accused of promoting alcohol in contravention of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act.

27 November 2020

Khana Ratsadon

Police have launched an investigation into the mock banknotes that were distributed to protesters at an anti-government rally on 25th November. 3,000 of the coupons were issued at the protest, outside the headquarters of Siam Commercial Bank in Bangkok. Each coupon had a face value of ten baht, and could be used to purchase food from street vendors.

The coupons were produced by Khana Ratsadon, one of the groups leading the recent protest movement. (Its name is a tribute to the political party that launched the 1932 revolution, transforming Thailand from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional democracy.) The fake banknotes may result in counterfeiting charges, though—bearing an image of a bright yellow duck—they could hardly be mistaken for legal tender. (The duck is wearing a crown and a crop-top, which may also lead to charges of lèse-majesté.)

The rally itself was peaceful, though a man threw a ping-pong bomb while the crowd was dispersing. Shots were fired shortly afterwards by another man, wounding one of the protest guards. (Earlier this month, shots were fired at protesters outside parliament, injuring six people. At that rally, protesters used inflatable ducks to shield themselves from water cannon.)

19 September 2020

ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา

This morning, police seized 50,000 copies of a booklet before it could be distributed at a pro-democracy protest. The booklet, ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา ข้อเรียกร้องว่าด้วยสถาบันกษัตริย์ (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August: calling for discussion of the monarchy’), contains speeches by four protest leaders—Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, Arnon Nampa, Parit Chirawak, and Panupong Jadnok—including Panusaya’s unprecedented ten-point manifesto on reform of the monarchy.

The four speeches were all delivered at Thammasat University on 10th August, and the booklet was due to be sold at Thammasat, where another protest is taking place today. It was published by the protest organiser, United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration. (Copies of an anti-military booklet published by a similar organisation, the New Democracy Movement, were seized in 2016.)

13 September 2020

Act สิ Art

Act Art
Act Art
Act Art
In recent years, the space in front of Bangkok’s BACC has served as an ideal stage for anti-government performances by students and other progressive groups. The Free Arts collective continued that tradition with Act สิ Art, an art fair and concert held there yesterday afternoon.

The event was a collaboration between artists (such as Pisitakun Kuantalaeng) and musicians (Rap Against Dictatorship, amongst others). It included art from Speedy Grandma (sketches mocking the military, with coded references to the monarchy) and Unmuted Project.

A shrine-like installation by Yada Kinbaku featured a blue folding chair tied up with red rope. The chair is a reference to Neal Ulevich’s photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre, though the piece also refers to the colours of the Thai flag and their symbolic meanings.

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).

Traces of Ratchadamnoen

Traces of Ratchadamnoen
Traces of Ratchadamnoen
Traces of Ratchadamnoen
The Traces of Ratchadamnoen (ล่องรอยราชดำเนิน) exhibition explores the cultural history of Ratchadamnoen Avenue, the grand boulevard at the heart of Bangkok’s political landscape. The interactive exhibition includes newspaper front pages from the 14th October 1973 pro-democracy protests at Democracy Monument, audio recorded at the Royal Hotel during the 1992 ‘Black May’ massacre, and hand-clappers used by red-shirt protesters (who painted Democracy Monument in blood).

The exhibition opened at Museum Siam on 1st July, and closes today, though it will transfer to the new Bangkok City Library from 6th September to 31st October. A free exhibition booklet features a fifty-page, fully-illustrated history of Ratchadamnoen. The exhibition guest-book shows that Ratchadamnoen remains politically sensitive today: it includes entries that contravene Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, and it’s perhaps a sign of the times (following recent student protests) that visitors would write such comments despite the potential consequences.

audio

17 August 2020

The Kingmaker

The Kingmaker
Silom Complex
Two screenings of the American documentary film The Kingmaker, about the life of Imelda Marcos, have been cancelled in southern Thailand after pressure from local authorities. The film was due to be shown on 14th August at the A.E.Y. Space gallery in Songkla, and on 19th August at Lorem Ipsum, a co-working space in Hat Yai. Both are small venues, with seating capacities of only thirty and twenty people, respectively.

Contrary to reports in the Bangkok Post newspaper and elsewhere, the film (directed by Lauren Greenfield and released last year) has not been banned in Thailand. In fact, it was passed uncut by the censors, and is currently showing at cinemas in Bangkok without incident. The ‘ban’ is similar to that of By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) and Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง), both of which were also subject to arbitrary local censorship: a Bangkok screening of By the Time It Gets Dark was stopped by police in 2017, and the military government prevented a Chonburi university screening of Boundary in 2015.

In the case of The Kingmaker, the authorities’ overzealous attitude highlights the state’s unease over recent anti-government protests. Several thousand students attended a rally at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on 18th July organised by Free Youth. More than 10,000 people rallied there yesterday, and a smaller protest (with a Harry Potter and Voldemort theme) took place on 3rd August. At a Thammasat University protest on 10th August organised by United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, student Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul read out a ten-point manifesto calling for greater oversight of the monarchy.

This unprecedented public questioning of the monarchy’s role broke a long-standing taboo in Thai society, leading the authorities to clamp down on potentially inflammatory material, in this case The Kingmaker’s title and poster. The screenings were scheduled for a few days after Thai Mother’s Day (12th August), which is celebrated on Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother’s birthday, and the poster does bear some similarities to one of her official portraits. These are mere coincidences, however, and the authorities’ paranoid reaction has turned what would have been a tiny event into an international headline.

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.