02 July 2022

Mob 2020-2021


Moving Images Screening Night

Mob 2020-2021

The third Moving Images Screening Night (คืนฉายภาพเคลื่อนไหว) took place at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok on 30th June. (The first Moving Images Screening Night, on 28th April, featured Jittarin Wuthiphan’s powerful short film Still on My Mind, his record of a mob in Phuket attacking a man they accused of disrespecting King Rama IX. The second event, on 25th May, included Suwaporn Worrasit’s Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+.) Each screening is divided into two themed programmes, which for the third event were Eclipse and Lucid Memory.

The highlight of the evening was Supong Jitmuang’s Mob 2020-2021, a chronicle of the current student protest movement. Supong told me that the film is “handmade”, emphasising the intricate nature of this two-hour documentary. Audience members received a Moving Images Screening Night brochure (Phase 01: Program Book), which the organisers also describe as “handmade”: a zine-style publication with a limited print run. Mob 2020-2021 postcards were also available.

Mob 2020-2021 covers the first twelve months of the anti-government protest movement. Supong and his camera were at Thammasat University on 19th September 2020, for the overnight rally that later occupied Sanam Luang. On 14th October 2020, he filmed the march to Government House, after which a state of emergency was declared. On 17th November 2020, he was on the front line when protesters used inflatable ducks to protect themselves from water cannon fired by riot police. (Sorayos Prapapan’s short film Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship documents the same event.)

The protests intensified last summer, and Mob 2020-2021 shows the rally at Democracy Monument on 18th July 2021 marking the first anniversary of the anti-government campaign. Last August, there were almost daily confrontations between riot police and protesters, but rather than filming each event, Supong summarises them in a general written caption noting the “multiple continuous clashes that lasted many weeks” (Hopefully, the ongoing Sound of ‘Din’ Daeng documentary series will cover this period, and the violent tactics employed by the riot police, in more detail.)

The closest equivalent to Mob 2020-2021 is probably Ing Kanjanavanit’s Bangkok Joyride (บางกอกจอยไรด์) though, of course, the two directors are from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Two renditions of Do You Hear the People Sing? in Mob 2020-2021, for example, serve as a counterpoint to Bangkok Joyride’s fetishisation of the national anthem. Bangkok Joyride and Mob 2020-2021 both provide an exhaustive record of street politics, though Mob 2020-2021 is a more objective account.

Mob 2020-2021 is the first feature-length documentary covering the recent protest movement. (The only other example, The Evil of Time’s Growth, focuses solely on the Thalufah group.) It’s an invaluable record of a profound social and political change in Thailand. Supong’s film also includes a written timeline of the protests, and its matter-of-fact neutrality is maintained throughout, except for a single reference to the “parasitic” government.

21 June 2022

ลุกไหม้สิ! ซิการ์



ลุกไหม้สิ! ซิการ์ (‘burning cigar!’), a short collection of poems written anonymously by ‘Chatchon’ in 2010 and 2020, offers a literary commentary on Thailand’s political protests. The bulk of the poems are reflections on the red-shirt rallies that culminated in the May 2010 military massacre. Uneducated People! highlights the condescension aimed at the pro-democracy movement by the rival yellow-shirts. ความสงสัย (‘doubtfulness’) addresses the killing of protesters on 10th April 2010 (an event also memorialised by Tawan Wattuya’s Amnesia and Parinot Kunakornwong’s 10th April). เด็กหนุ่มในบทกวี (‘the boy in the poem’) is a remembrance of the final week of the 2010 massacre (as was Pisitakun Kuantalaeng’s installation Ten Year: Thai Military Crackdown [sic]).

Similarly, the poems written in 2020 address the student-led protest groups that have formed over the last two years. One poem is dedicated to Arnon Nampa, one of the protest leaders, who is himself a poet. Another is titled เก่งมาก กล้ามาก ขอบใจ (‘very good, very brave, thank you’), clearly evoking a comment made by the King to one of his supporters during a walkabout on 23rd October 2020—“กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ” (‘very brave, very good, thank you’)—which is also the title of a song by Paeng Surachet. This poem also quotes the protest chant “1 2 3 4 5 I Hear Too”, a pun on the Bottom Blues single 12345 I Love You. (“I Hear Too” is a homophone for ‘ai hia Tu’, an insult directed at Prayut Chan-o-cha.)

18 June 2022

Pääministerin morsian



Matti Vanhanen, Prime Minister of Finland from 2003 to 2010, was largely seen as rather bland during his two terms in office. That reputation was briefly tested when a book by his former girlfriend, a caterer called Susan Kuronen, was published in 2007.

There was nothing scandalous about Vanhanen’s relationship with Kuronen—he and his wife were already divorced—so her somewhat tawdry kiss-and-tell book, Pääministerin morsian (‘the Prime Minister’s bride’), had no real public-interest defence. In fact, more than 50,000 Finns signed a petition calling on bookshops to refuse to stock it.

Vanhanen sued the publisher for invasion of privacy, as the book included personal text messages he had sent to Kuronen during their relationship. He sought $1,450 in damages (plus $83,200 in royalties and profits), and initially lost the case, though he won on appeal, a decision upheld by Finland’s Supreme Court in 2010. Kuronen lost her appeal at the European Court of Human Rights in 2014, seven years after Vanhanen’s lawsuit was first filed.

Boiled Angels

The case has interesting parallels with former UK prime minister John Major. Like Vanhanen, Major was perceived as grey and dull (a reputation caricatured by Spitting Image), and he also sued over reports of an alleged affair with a caterer. In that case, however, the allegation was false, though Major was having an affair with one of his ministers, Edwina Currie, at the time.

12 June 2022

เดินไล่ตู่


Voice TV

Riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at anti-government protesters in Bangkok yesterday, in the first clashes between police and protesters this year. A few hundred people marched from Democracy Monument to Victory Monument yesterday afternoon, in an event promoted online as เดินไล่ตู่ (‘march to remove Tu’, a reference to Prime Minister and coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha).

Most of the protesters had dispersed by the early evening, though some stragglers (a hard core of around fifty people) attempted to make their way to the PM’s residence at the military barracks on Viphavadi Rangsit Road. They threw fireworks and other projectiles at riot police, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. A police pickup truck was also set alight.

Last night’s events were an echo of similar clashes that took place on multiple occasions last year, including almost daily street battles at Viphavadi Rangsit Road last August. Police fired rubber bullets against anti-Prayut protesters on 28th February; 20th March; 2nd May; 18th July; 7th, 10th, 11th, 13th, and 15th August; and 14th November 2021.

26 May 2022

สงครามเย็น (ใน)ระหว่าง โบว์ขาว



Kanokrat Lertchoosakul’s book สงครามเย็น (ใน)ระหว่าง โบว์ขาว (‘the Cold War (in)between the white bow’), published last year, examines the roles of successive generations in the current Thai political protest movement. Kanokrat argues that the present government, which came to power in a military coup, is a remnant of the Cold War era, when authoritarianism was accepted by society at large. (Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul discusses this older generation’s submissive attitude in Thai Cinema Uncensored: “disruption of the flow and unity is a really big deal. Like my Mum... she is in the generation of Sarit [Thanarat], all these people who were very powerful.”) On the other hand, today’s students are much less tolerant of Thailand’s top-down culture, and in 2020 the Free Youth anti-government group encouraged high school students to wear white ribbons as a symbol of resistance.

What’s most remarkable about the book is its inclusion (on page 57) of the Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) front page that sparked the 6th October 1976 massacre. (The newspaper falsely accused Thammasat University students of lèse-majesté, and vigilantes stormed the campus.) For more than thirty years, there was an unspoken prohibition against reproducing Dao Siam’s incendiary headline and photo. Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine broke the taboo in its June 2012 issue, though other publications have only recently followed suit. The front page has appeared in only three other books, all published within the last three years: 45 ปี 6 (‘45 years of 6th Oct.’), Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย), and Moments of Silence. Heavily obscured by overpainting, it’s also part of Thasnai Sethaseree’s new Cold War exhibition at MAIIAM in Chiang Mai.

22 May 2022

Lost, and Life Goes On


Lost, and Life Goes On
Lost, and Life Goes On

Amnesty International Thailand has organised a new exhibition commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of ‘Black May’, the massacre of anti-coup protesters that took place in Bangkok in 1992. Chamlong Srimuang led a crowd of more than 200,000 protesters at Sanam Luang on 17th May 1992, and the following morning the army fired live rounds into the crowd. The protest spread to Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, and the nearby Royal Hotel became a field hospital for the injured. After two more days of clashes, King Rama IX held a televised meeting with Chamlong and coup leader Suchinda Kraprayoon, after which Suchinda resigned as Prime Minister. This was the King’s most direct public intervention in politics, and footage of the two men kneeling in front of him created the impression that royal authority superseded political leadership.

The official death toll from ‘Black May’ was fifty-two, though there were persistent rumours of dozens more bodies piled into military trucks in the dead of night. (Such accounts are at the heart of Emma Larkin’s novel Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok.) The exhibition Lost, and Life Goes On (เลือนแต่ไม่ลืม), which opened yesterday at Palette Artspace in Bangkok, focuses on these missing victims who remain unaccounted for. In a video installation by Setthasiri Chanjaradpong, สุดปลายสาย (‘the end of the line’), a woman phones a suspected victim who never answers the call. The video periodically shows a live feed from a camera in the gallery, as if to say that anyone could disappear, as Thailand is still ruled by a coup leader.

Remember
Unexpected, Unfound, Unclear

The exhibition, which runs until 29th May, also includes a series of three Risograph prints by Thisismjtp: Unexpected (a reference to the violence of ‘Black May’), Unfound (referring to the missing victims), and Unclear (the state of limbo that still exists thirty years later). There are also portraits of eighteen victims by Thai Political Tarot (collectively titled Remember), newspapers from the period, and paintings based on news photographs. The opening day saw the premiere of a new half-hour documentary directed by Sumeth Suwanneth (also titled Lost, and Life Goes On), featuring interviews with relatives of victims of the massacre.

The only previous exhibition on ‘Black May’, Ratchadamnoen Memory (organised by the Campaign for Popular Democracy, and held at the Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel), took place a few months after the event. Audio recordings of the massacre were played during the recent Traces of Ratchadamnoen (ล่องรอยราชดำเนิน) exhibition. Vasan Sitthiket’s painting Death for Democracy 1992 (ตายเพื่อประชาธิปไตย 2535) was included in his BACC retrospective, and สร้างสาน ตำนานศิลป์ 20 ปี (‘creating a chronicle of 20 years of Thai art’) features other paintings inspired by the massacre. The best books on the incident are Alan Klima’s The Funeral Casino, William A. Callhan’s Imagining Democracy, and Charnvit Kasetsiri’s พฤษภา-พฤษภา (‘May-May’). I discussed the cinematic representation of ‘Black May’, from documentaries to short films and feature films, in Thai Cinema Uncensored.

08 May 2022

The Evil of Time's Growth


The Evil of Time's Growth

The Evil of Time’s Growth, a feature-length documentary marking the first anniversary of the Thalufah anti-government protest group, was screened at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok yesterday. It’s now available on the group’s Facebook and YouTube channels. The documentary, which is more than 2½ hours long, includes footage of Thalufah marches and demonstrations filmed throughout last year, and interviews with group members and supporters. The most violent incidents from the protests—rubber bullets fired by riot police, and arson by demonstrators—are not included.

Thalufah was founded by Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, and his interview was filmed in front of a large painting by Lucky Leg, which the artist donated to the group. The film was shown as part of The Battle Wound of Thalufah, an exhibition organised by the group, which opened on 31st March. Thalufah previously organised the Specter exhibition, which was later expanded. Rap Against Dictatorship’s single Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า) was a tribute to the group, as was the zine Break Through published last year.

[The Evil of Time’s Growth’s Thai title, การเติบโตของปีศาจแห่งการเวลา, is the direct equivalent of the English version, and includes the Thai word ปีศาจ (‘evil spirit’). But when promoting the film, Cartel Artspace replaced the letter with , a typo that changed the word’s meaning to ‘court’. In the English title, Growth is stylised as “GROIIITH”, a reference to the three-finger salute adopted by the protest movement.]

23 April 2022

Deep South


Deep SouthDeep South Deep South

The group exhibition Deep South (ลึกลงไป ใต้ชายแดน) opened at VS Gallery in Bangkok on 31st March, and runs until 11th June. Like the landmark Patani Semasa (ปาตานี ร่วมสมัย) exhibition and catalogue, Deep South aims to destigmatise Thailand’s southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat: in the exhibition brochure, curator Anuwat Apimukmongkon notes that many Bangkokians “dare not visit these cursed areas,” due to the ongoing separatist insurgency. In addition to paintings and installations by seven artists, the exhibition also features five news photographs of the 2004 Tak Bai incident, tinted red and displayed on the walls, floor, and ceiling.

Deep SouthDeep South Deep SouthDeep South

More than eighty protesters were killed at Tak Bai, most of whom died of suffocation after being crammed into military trucks. Video footage of the massacre was banned from television by Thaksin Shinawatra, who was Prime Minister at the time. Defying the ban, the journal Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน) distributed a VCD of Tak Bai footage, and this inspired Thunska Pansittivorakul to direct his political documentary This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน). As he told me in an interview for my book Thai Cinema Uncensored: “Something happened in that VCD that touched me, the first time that I watched it. It’s something that I never knew from other media.”

Deep SouthDeep South Deep SouthDeep South

Other artists have also created works commemorating the events of Tak Bai. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Photophobia incorporates press photographs of the incident, as does Black Air by Pimpaka Towira, Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr, Koichi Shimizu, and Jakrawal Nilthamrong. In Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh’s Violence in Tak Bai (ความรุนแรงที่ตากใบ), white tombstones mark the graves of each victim. Jakkhai Siributr’s 78 and Zakariya Amataya’s Report from a Partitioned Village (รายงานจากหมู่บ้านที่ถูกปิดล้อม) both include lists of the victims’ names.

16 April 2022

The Battle Wound of Thalufah


The Battle Wound
The Battle Wound
The Battle Wound

The protest group Thalufah organised demonstrations near Prayut Chan-o-cha’s residence on Vipavadee Rangsit Road last year. The Battle Wound of Thalufah, a new exhibition at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok, features t-shirts worn by the protesters and art installations created by the group. One of the t-shirts appears to be bloodstained, and gas masks are also on display—visible reminders that riot police used rubber bullets and tear gas against the demonstrators. (Similarly, Sirawith Seritiwat’s bloodstained shirt was shown along with anti-government t-shirts at the Never Again exhibition in 2019.)

Thalufah was founded by Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, who has been convicted of lèse-majesté (article 112), and the exhibition features t-shirts with various anti-112 slogans. (A similarly uncompromising slogan also appears as graffiti in the photobook EBB by BEKOS.) In one corner, a television is tuned to channel 10, though it has no signal. Next to it are reproductions of a poster from The X Files, modified with screengrabs from a leaked video (which was also referenced in Nawat Lertsawaengkit’s painting Yellow! and Badmixy’s music video Next Love).

Behind a curtain, the two-minute video Sadistic Patriot plays on a loop, intercutting TV news footage of the military at a state occasion with hardcore clips from online pornography. A card on the wall explains that, while the state demands respect for Thailand’s tripartite motto, there is no reciprocation. According to Thalufah, this results in a coercive relationship between people and state, and “เป็นเหมือน Sex ที่เจ็บปวด” (‘it’s like painful sex’), hence the porn clips. (Thunska Pansittivorakul has also used porn as political satire, in films such as Santikhiri Sonata/สันติคีรี โซนาตา.)

Thalufah previously organised the Specter exhibition, which was later expanded. The Battle Wound of Thalufah opened on 31st March, and was originally scheduled to close on 30th April, though the event has now been extended. A feature-length documentary made by Thalufah, The Evil of Time’s Growth (การเติบโตของปีศาจแห่งการเวลา), will be shown at the gallery and streamed online via Facebook and YouTube on 7th May.

05 April 2022

“Pictures too horrific to print...”


The Times

For the first time, some UK newspapers have published photographs of casualties of the war in Ukraine, after bodies were discovered lying in the streets of Bucha. The area was recaptured by Ukrainian forces last week, though war photographers discovered evidence that Russian troops had killed hundreds of civilians, some of whom were also subjected to torture.

The first image from Bucha was published yesterday by The Sunday Times: a photograph by Ronaldo Schemidt of a dead man, lying face down, his hands tied behind his back. Images of other casualties, their hands similarly tied, appear today in the Irish Independent and The Times. Today’s Daily Mail prints a graphic close-up of a dead man’s bound hands.

The most widely reproduced image, taken by Schemidt, shows several bodies lying on their sides in the middle of the road. It appears on the front page of The Times today, and on the inside pages of The Daily Telegraph. The Financial Times front page shows a different view of the same scene, also taken by Schemidt. Picture editors must balance the instinct to reflect the reality of war with the sensitivites of their readers, and today’s Metro describes the Bucha photographs as “pictures too horrific to print”.

Previous wars have led to similar editorial dilemmas. A photo by Ken Jarecke of an Iraqi soldier’s charred body was rejected by all newspapers except The Observer (which printed it on 10th March 1991), and during the second Iraq war “a gruesome image of a young child’s head split open” was the subject of much debate in the media before finally being printed by The Guardian (on 28th March 2003). Following the 9/11 attack in 2001, the US media all agreed to avoid publishing any images of the victims—except the New York Daily News, which printed an image of a severed hand taken by Todd Maisel.

30 March 2022

#รัฐบาลเผด็จการ


Same Sky

Thai police have ordered Same Sky Books to remove a banner from its booth at the National Book Fair. The banner reproduced various anti-government social media hashtags, and the police singled out #รัฐบาลเผด็จการ (‘dictatorial government’) as particularly unacceptable.

The cloth banner, suspended from the ceiling, had been on display since the Book Fair opened at Bang Sue Grand Station in Bangkok on 26th March. The police asked Same Sky to remove it two days later. After some negotiation, the publisher reversed the banner yesterday, making the text unreadable and highlighting the act of censorship.

Ironically, of course, the authoritarian police action demonstrates the accuracy of the hashtag under dispute. Police also visited Same Sky’s booth at the 2014 Book Fair, forcing them to remove three t-shirts from sale. This year’s Book Fair runs until 6th April.

24 March 2022

Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti:
Hope Full, Hope Less, Hope Well


Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti Headache Stencil

Rupert Mann’s Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti: Hope Full, Hope Less, Hope Well, published last month, is the first comprehensive survey of street art in Bangkok. (Alisa Phommahaxay’s more limited Bangkok Street Art was published in 2019.) The book contrasts the insular graffiti tagging scene of the early 2000s with the emergence of more character-based street art in the early 2010s. Similar divisions persist over the increasing commercialisation of street art, and Mann addresses the nuances of these debates and places them in historical context. It is also available in a Thai edition, titled สตรีทอาร์ตกับกราฟฟิตีในกรุงเทพฯ และ ณ โฮปเวลล์ ความหวังที่หายไป.

The book’s main focus is the artistic takeover of Hopewell, the site of an abandoned elevated road and rail line. (Hopewell’s huge concrete pillars now stand as monuments to overambition, lethargy, and corruption.) The most interesting chapter covers political dissent, led by Headache Stencil’s pieces denouncing Prawit Wongsuwan (the deputy PM with a suspicious penchant for luxury watches) and Premchai Karnasuta (the head of ITD—which secured some of the country’s most lucrative infrastructure contracts—who organised an illegal hunting party), and includes a discussion of censorship and its circumvention.

20 March 2022

Bangkok Street Art:
Regard sur la scène urbaine thaïlandaise


Bangkok Street Art
Headache Stencil

Alisa Phommahaxay’s Bangkok Street Art: Regard sur la scène urbaine thaïlandaise (‘a look at the urban Thai scene’) was the first book on Bangkok street art and graffiti. It profiles seven artists, including Alex Face (“probably the most well-known Thai street artist in the world”), though it also features work by plenty of others (there are six pages devoted to Headache Stencil, for example).

The pocket-sized Bangkok Street Art was published in 2019, as part of the Opus Délits (‘criminal works’) series of monographs on urban artists. A second and more substantial book on the subject, Rupert Mann’s Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti: Hope Full, Hope Less, Hope Well (สตรีทอาร์ตกับกราฟฟิตีในกรุงเทพฯ และ ณ โฮปเวลล์ ความหวังที่หายไป), was published this year.

18 March 2022

Mob 2020-2021


Mob 2020-2021

Supong Jitmuang’s documentary Mob 2020-2021 will be shown this afternoon at the Kinjai Contemporary gallery in Bangkok. The film is the first to provide a full record of the current student protest movement, and is simultaneously epic in scope (at almost two hours long) and intimately personal (Supong described it to me as a “handmade” film).

Mob 2020-2021 was previously screened online during the Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน), as part of the 25th Short Film and Video Festival, on 19th November last year. Today’s screening will be its theatrical premiere, and free postcards will also be available.

06 March 2022

‘This madness must be stopped!’



On 2nd March, the offices of four local newspapers were raided by Russian police, who seized all copies before they could be distributed. Each paper had printed a front-page headline calling for an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “ЭТО БЕЗУМИЕ ДОЛЖНО БЫТЬ ОСТАНОВЛЕНО!” (‘this madness must be stopped!’).

Russian media is heavily censored, and state television—which broadcasts Kremlin propaganda—remains the most popular source of news. Even terms such as ‘war’ and ‘invasion’ are forbidden in coverage of the Ukraine conflict, making the headlines all the more courageous. The four newspapers are: Вечерний Краснотурьинск (‘Krasnoturyinsk evening news’), Вечерний Карпинск (‘Karpinsk evening news’), ПроСевероуральск (‘Severouralsk news’), and Глобуса (‘the globe’).

02 March 2022

Homeland


Homeland

Rap Against Dictatorship released their latest music video, Homeland (บ้านเกิดเมืองนอน), yesterday. The song begins with a verse by Liberate P highlighting the generational divide between the nationalist establishment and the progressive youth movement. This is summarised by an algebra metaphor with a double meaning: “a negative X in a formula with a positive Y”.

Hockhacker (making a welcome return to the group, after taking time out to start a family) refers to a “village chief executive”, using ‘village’ as a microcosm. The song is even more confrontational than Rap Against Dictatorship’s previous single, Reform (ปฏิรูป), including insults such as “psychopath”.

There is also a line about the 6th October 1976 massacre, with Thailand described as “this land where they swing chairs on faces”. This is Rap Against Dictatorship’s fourth reference to the massacre, after their videos for Burning Sky (ไฟไหม้ฟ้า), To Whom It May Concern (ถึงผู้มีส่วน เกี่ยวข้อง), and My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี).

21 February 2022

A Minor History, Part II:
Beautiful Things


Break Out of the Loop of National Conflict into Peaceful Nature A Minor History

Phase two of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย ภาคสอง) exhibition opened on 18th February at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok, and runs until 10th April. The second phase was originally due to begin on 25th November last year, though part one was extended until Boxing Day due to coronavirus restrictions. Like the first phase, part two—subtitled Beautiful Things (สิ่งสวยงาม)— features a vertical video installation with scrolling text documenting fragments of Apichatpong’s interior monologue.

Alongside the video and photographs by Apichatpong are two works by other artists, Methagod and Natanon Senjit. Methagod’s small sculpture Thep Nelumbo Nucifera is decorated with images of lotus flowers, whose seeds remain dormant for extended periods before sprouting. As curator Manuporn Luengaram writes in the exhibition press release, the sculpture therefore “reminds us of the perpetual resurrection of Thailand’s youth movements despite being time and again suppressed.”

Natanon’s Break Out of the Loop of National Conflict into Peaceful Nature, painted on two large boards, depicts the Mekong riverbank crowded with anti-government protesters, royalists, and military officers. One corner shows the murder of Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, who was also the subject of Pin Sasao’s installation ถังแดง​: ความตายของบิลลี่ (‘red barrel: the death of Billy’). This echoes the underlying theme of A Minor History: the Mekong as a site for the disposal of the bodies of murdered political dissidents.

Last October, 100 Tonson also showed Apichatpong’s video installation Silence, commemorating the 45th anniversary of the 6th October 1976 massacre. His new feature film Memoria opens in Thailand this week, after its premiere at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

07 February 2022

บันทึกการเมืองด้วยเส้นสายลายการ์ตูน 3



More than a decade ago, veteran political cartoonist Sakda Saeeow was accused of lèse-majesté and subjected to a three-year police investigation, after one of his cartoons was misinterpreted. The case—which has not been fully disclosed until now—stemmed from a newspaper cartoon published in Thai Rath (ไทยรัฐ) on 9th March 2009, showing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as a puppet of his deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban. (Suthep was known to be the Democrat Party’s fixer, pulling the strings behind the scenes.)

The butt of the joke was Sondhi Limthongkul, portrayed as a toad complaining that he had been sidelined despite his PAD protests paving the way for Abhisit’s premiership. (This is a reference to the Thai idiom ‘คางคกขึ้นวอ’, literally ‘a toad carried on a palanquin’: rising above one’s station.) But it was the drawing of Suthep that caused the controversy. A reader reported the cartoon to the police, alleging that Suthep’s face resembled that of King Rama IX. As Sakda explained today, he was falsely accused of depicting “ในหลวงชักใยอภิสิทธิ์” (‘the King manipulating Abhisit’).

Under Thai law, defamantion is a criminal offence, and lèse-majesté (royal defamation) charges can be filed by anyone. The police examined all of Sakda’s work published six months before and six months after the cartoon in question. (He often caricatured Abhisit as a puppet, usually controlled by an unseen figure.) The political editors of four newspapers were also called to give evidence, and they all confirmed that the cartoon depicted Suthep, not Rama IX.

Even benign illustrations of King Rama IX were considered taboo, to the extent that children’s picture books—such as The Story of Tongdaeng (เรื่อง ทองแดง)—showed him only in silhouette. Somewhat trepidatiously, Stéphane Peray (known as Stephff) drew a respectful cartoon of the King ascending to heaven, published in The Nation newspaper to commemorate his death (reproduced in Red Lines). A hundred years ago, the political climate was very different: เกราะเหล็ก (‘armour’) printed a highly unflattering front-page caricature of Rama VI by cartoonist Sem Sumanan on 22nd November 1925 (reprinted in Woman, Man, Bangkok), and the newspaper was closed down—though it was back on sale six weeks later.


Sakda’s cartoon was reprinted in บันทึกการเมืองด้วยเส้นสายลายการ์ตูน 3 (‘a cartoon record of politics’), the third volume of his political cartoon anthologies, though its notoriety has not been revealed until now. (The book also includes cartoons mourning the victims of the 2010 military crackdown and, as the months go by, Abhisit’s caricature bears an increasing resemblance to Hitler.) In a more famous instance of state censorship, Sakda (who uses the pen name Sia) was summonsed by the NCPO junta on 4th October 2015, the day after Thai Rath published his cartoon mocking Prayut Chan-o-cha’s speech at the UN General Assembly.

30 January 2022

“I’ve killed too many communists...”


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Anatomy of Time
The Edge of Daybreak

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s most celebrated work, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ), was also his first political statement on film. Boonmee—a former military officer who fought the student Communists radicalised after the 6th October 1976 massacre—is dying of kidney disease, and wonders aloud whether he is being punished: “I’ve killed too many communists.” His sister tries to reassure him—“But you killed with good intentions... You killed the commies for the nation, right?”—though Boonmee is unconvinced, and the conversation peters out; a brutal guerrilla war has become a faded memory, both for Boonmee and the country as a whole.

Two recent Thai films also portray former military men on their deathbeds. In the opening line of Taiki Sakpisit’s The Edge of Daybreak (พญาโศกพิโยคค่ำ), a man narrates his role in the anti-Communist purge: “I was leading my unit into the woods to catch the students.” Similarly, Jakrawal Nilthamrong’s Anatomy of Time (เวลา) begins with a flashback in which a military officer leads an attack on Communist insurgents. In both films, the unnamed men remain largely bedridden, tended by nurses and family members, though their violent reputations have not been forgotten: in The Edge of Daybreak, the man is smothered with a pillow; and in Anatomy of Time, the man’s nurse wishes him a “slow and painful” death. (On the other hand, like Boonmee’s sister, one of his military colleagues believes he “made many sacrifices for the country.”)

In all three films, the men’s karma is directly cited as the reason for their sickness. In an extended flashback in Anatomy of Time, the man’s wife asks: “Dad, is it true that we all have to pay for our sins?” Her father explains that, according to Buddhist teachings, karma does indeed exist. Likewise, Boonmee tells his sister: “You know, this is a result of my karma.” In The Edge of Daybreak, the man’s family believe that they are cursed and, as if to confirm this, the exquisite black-and-white camerawork lingers on images of decay, such as rotting food and their crumbling home. The legacy of violent suppression is also a curse on the country itself, and these three films offer a reckoning with Thailand’s past and a commentary on its continuing military rule.

23 January 2022

10 ราษฎร


Family Club

Five plainclothes police officers made an unannounced inspection of the new 1932 People Space Library at Wat Thong Noppakhun in Bangkok today. They confiscated a copy of 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’), which features portraits by Chalermpol Junrayab of ten activists charged with lèse-majesté.

One of the officers returned the book a few hours later, claiming that he had merely taken it for his young son to read. 10 ราษฎร is part of a series of eight children’s picture books investigated by the Ministry of Education last year.