06 December 2021

Oh My Ghost! 8


Oh My Ghost! 8

A scene from Oh My Ghost! 8 (หอแต๋วแตกแหก โควิดปังปุริเย่), the new comedy from Poj Arnon, has been censored. The Film and Video Censorship Committee gave the movie a ‘15’ rating, though only after an entire sequence featuring celebrity monk Paivan Wannabud was deleted. According to the censors, it’s inappropriate for a real monk to appear in an entertainment film, and all footage of him had to be cut. (Coincidentally, Paivan left the monkhood on 3rd December, the day after the film’s release, a technicality that might eventually allow Poj to show the film uncut.)

The censored material is completely innocuous, simply showing Paivan blessing the hotel in which the film is set. In real life, Paivan is famous for his camp mannerisms, which is in keeping with the rest of the film. Poj announced the censors’ decision on 25th November and, after being initially tight-lipped about what had been deleted, he uploaded part of the censored scene online five days later. Other clips from the sequence are included in the film’s trailer.

Surprisingly, a scene mocking Prayut Chan-o-cha escaped censorship. One character complains to another—“You’ve been managing for 7-8 years... You make people poorer and poorer, idiot!... Especially Covid-19, everywhere is fully vaccinated. Except here, only 1 jab or nothing”—who assumes that she’s talking about “Big Tu”. (Tu is Prayut’s nickname.) The film is full of topical references like this, one of which is shockingly insensitive: a parody of police chief Thitisan Utthanaphon’s suffocation of a suspect with a bin liner.

Representation of monks has long been a sensitive subject in Thai cinema, and I wrote a chapter about it in my book Thai Cinema Uncensored. Monks have been censored from recent films such as Kanittha Kwunyoo’s Karma (อาบัติ), Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ), Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Headshot (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), and Surasak Pongson’s Thibaan: The Series 2.2 (ไทบ้านเดอะซีรีส์ 2.2). Similarly, paintings depicting monks were withdrawn from two exhibitions in Bangkok in 2007.

Oh My Ghost! 3 Oh My Ghost! 3 Oh My Ghost! 3

This is the eighth film in Poj’s Oh My Ghost! series, though it’s not the first to be censored. The teaser poster for Oh My Ghost! 3 was judged too risqué: a pair of trousers had to be superimposed over an actor’s skimpy underwear. (A much more modest image was used as the final release poster.) Oh My Ghost! 3’s Thai title was also changed by the censors, from หอแต๋วแตก แหกชิมิ to หอแต๋วแตก แหวกชิมิ. They objected to the word haek (แหก), meaning ‘spread apart’, and changed it to the more polite waek (แหวก). (Karma required a similarly negligible change to its Thai title.)

04 December 2021

25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival


New Abnormal / Please... See Us / Dance of Death

The finalists in the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival will be screened at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya from 18th to 26th December. The programme on 19th December includes three excellent short films, all of which address life-and-death social issues in Thailand: New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่), Please... See Us, and Dance of Death (แดนซ์ ออฟ เดธ).

The satirical New Abnormal, by Sorayos Prapapan, takes aim at Prayut Chan-o-cha and his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. Phayao Nimma plays an irritable Prayut, annoyed by a civil servant asking about bailouts for businesses affected by the lockdown. Other sequences address the inadequate supply of vaccines earlier in the year.

Chaweng Chaiyawan’s Please... See Us highlights the displacement of ethnic minorities. The film ends with an extended sequence in which a pig is killed and dismembered, the helpless animal being a tragic metaphor for the plight of ethnic minorities in Thailand. (It was previously shown this year at Wildtype and Signes de Nuit.)

Dance of Death is a condensed version of Thunska Pansittivorakul and Phassarawin Kulsomboon’s feature-length documentary Danse Macabre (มรณสติ), which juxtaposes accounts of violent deaths with interpretive dance routines. In Thailand’s unequal society, not even death can rupture the social hierarchy, and Dance of Death explores the disparity between the deaths of royals and commoners.

Screenings are free, and the winning films will be announced on Boxing Day. Last year’s event featured equally political entries, such as Sorayos’ Prelude of the Moving Zoo.

28 November 2021

If We Burn, Issue 1: Before


If We Burn

If We Burn, Issue 1: Before, edited by Wassachol Sirichanthanun, is an anthology of short stories, poetry, art, and photography created since the 2014 coup. The title, If We Burn (“...you burn with us”), is a quote from The Hunger Games, the series that also inspired the three-finger salute adopted by anti-coup activists.

The collection includes new writings from Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa and Dawut Sassanapitax, amongst others. Artworks include an infographic documenting the casualties of the 2010 military massacre. The grey cover image is described as “ด้านหลังของภาพขนาดใหญ่ภาพหนึ่ง ณสวนสัตว์เขาดิน” (‘the back of a large portrait at Dusit Zoo’), a similar concept to Wittawat Tongkeaw, who exhibited the back of a painting of that person’s husband—The Masterpiece (มาสเตอร์พีซ)—earlier this year.

27 November 2021

EBB



The new photobook EBB features the work of nineteen photographers, documenting the recent anti-government and monarchy-reform protests in Thailand. The title refers both to ‘ebbing away’ (of support for the establishment) and ‘ebb and flow’ (the sense that receding waves—like persecuted protesters—will eventually return).

There are some stunning images, including a phalanx of riot police (photographed by Adsadang Satsadee); a sea of protesters, with a solitary ‘I here too’ placard (Panasann Pattanakulchai); and a lone protester, arms outstretched, on the front line (Asadawut Boonlitsak). In many photographs, fireworks, tear gas, and surreal props add to the phantasmagorical nature of the protests in Bangkok. There are also images of the Calmer Rouge performance event in Chiang Mai.

The book was launched yesterday, on the opening day of the Bangkok Art Book Fair at CityCity Gallery. It’s available in a limited edition of 300 copies, and the photos—selected by Kanrapee Chokpaiboon—are accompanied by anti-government graffiti by street artist BEKOS. The Art Book Fair (making a welcome return after being held online last year due to the coronavirus lockdown) continues until tomorrow.

23 November 2021

Miss Thailand Universe 2021


Anchalee Scott-Kemmis

Anchalee Scott-Kemmis, the winner of Miss Thailand Universe 2021, is facing criminal charges after a complaint against her was filed with the Metropolitan Police in Bangkok today. An online image featuring Anchalee is alleged to have violated the Flag Act, according to the ultra-royalist MP Sonthiya Sawasdee.

The image, showing Anchalee standing on the blue section of the Thai flag design, was posted on the Miss Thailand Universe social media accounts (and has since been deleted). Sonthiya claims that, by appearing to stand on the flag, Anchalee is guilty of “placing the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flags at an inappropriate place or in an inappropriate manner”, which is prohibited by the Flag Act.

Violation of the Flag Act carries a penalty of up to six months in prison, though Sonthiya has also accused Anchalee of breaking article 118 of the Thai criminal code. This criminalises “making any act to the flag or any other emblem to be symbolized the State with the intention to deride the Nation” [sic], and carries a more severe jail sentence of up to two years.

The image in question also shows Anchalee holding a large Thai flag, and Sonthiya has completely mischaracterised this patriotic portrait. Also, Sonthiya seemingly fails to recognise that this is a composite image, and that Anchalee did not physically step on a Thai flag. Sonthiya is a member of the governing Palang Pracharath Party, which is essentially the political wing of the military junta. Earlier this year, two art students were accused of violating the Flag Act by another self-appointed moral guardian.

15 November 2021

“A system in which everyone is equal...”


Pathum Wan

An anti-government protester was shot yesterday while marching from Pathum Wan intersection to the German embassy in Bangkok. Police fired rubber bullets at the crowd, hitting a man in the chest and puncturing his lung. (Riot police have repeatedly deployed rubber bullets against protesters this year. On 17th August, fifteen-year-old Warit Somnoi was hit by a live bullet, and he tragically died on 29th October after spending more than two months in a coma. Police officer Detwit Ledtenson was shot in the head on 7th October during a protest at Din Daeng.)

Protesters gathered at Pathum Wan yesterday afternoon, calling for the abolition of the lèse-majesté law. As shown in an AFP photograph by Pitcha Dangprasith, they also burnt effigies of the Constitutional Court judges who ruled on 10th November that any call for reform of the monarchy was an attempt to overthrow the monarchy itself. The judgement related to speeches by three protesters—Arnon Nampa, Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, and Panupong Jadnok—on 10th August last year, published in the booklet The Day the Sky Trembled (ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา). (The Constitutional Court has previously ordered the dissolution of Thai Rak Thai, the People Power Party, Thai Raksa Chart, and Future Forward, which were also perceived as threats to the establishment.)

Outside the embassy, an open letter to the German government was read out. The statement highlighted the protesters’ concerns that recent actions by the Thai state are “pulling Thailand away from democracy and back to absolute monarchy,” and that the protest movement’s calls for reform of the monarchy are rooted in the fundamental principle of equality: “This is a fight to insist that this country must be ruled by a system in which everyone is equal.”

12 November 2021

อนาคตคือ


A Na Kod Keu

In the music video for their new single อนาคตคือ (‘the future is...’), Milli and Youngohm play high school sweethearts who are bullied by their classmates and, in a virtual reality simulation, they find themselves surrounded by tear gas and captured by riot police. The video, directed by Putiroj Devakul, also includes split-second images of recent anti-government protests, at which the police have also deployed tear gas.

Thai students have numbers embroidered on their uniforms, though the numbers in the video all have political significance. Milli’s number is 393, the section of the criminal code that forbids public insults. (She was fined ฿2,000 after insulting Prayut Chan-o-cha on Twitter, and the song includes the ironic lyric “I love you two thousand”.) Youngohm’s number, 113, refers to the law against overthrowing the government. The respective numbers of the two school bullies, 010 and 250, refer to a regnal number and unelected senators (250 of whom were appointed by the junta).

Filmmaker Thunska Pansittivorakul has also used numbers on clothing as a political code. In his music video Remember (วน), a man wears a jumpsuit with the number 1721955, a reference to 17th February 1955, the date when three scapegoats were executed for the murder of King Rama VIII. In his new film Danse Macabre (มรณสติ), two men have the numbers 1702 and 1955 on their respective running shorts.

10 November 2021

‘Millions of Iranians live below the poverty line!’



The Iranian newspaper Kelid (کلید) has been shut down by the government after it published a cartoon criticising Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on its front page on 6th November. Alongside a headline reporting the results of a national poverty survey—“!میلیون‌ها خانوار ایرانی زیر خط فقر” (‘millions of Iranians live below the poverty line!’)—a cartoon showed a hand wearing the Ayatollah’s signet ring, drawing a literal poverty line that denied the poor access to food supplies.

27 October 2021

Peril


Peril

Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, completes a trilogy of Woodward’s books on Donald Trump, following Fear and Rage. Peril examines Trump’s final year in office and the first few months of Joe Biden’s presidency, and its title is taken from Biden’s inaugural address, in which he described a “winter of peril.”

I Alone Can Fix It, by fellow Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, also covers the end of the Trump administration, and shares some of the same sources: William Barr and Mark Milley clearly spoke to the authors of both books. Milley confirmed as much to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, though his description of the 6th January insurrection as a “Reichstag moment”—the standout quote from I Alone Can Fix It—is merely an hors-d’œuvre in Peril.

How to convey the madness of the Trump White House in its final months? Woodward and Costa opt for a cinematic comparison: “The scenes of a screaming Trump in the Oval Office resembled Full Metal Jacket,” and Trump reminded Barr of another Kubrick classic, “the character in the 1964 dark comedy Dr. Strangelove who ruminates about withholding his “essence” from women.”

Barr told Trump the unvarnished truth, that potential voters “think you’re a fucking asshole.” (Biden concurred, in a private White House conversation: “What a fucking asshole”.) Lyndsey Graham was equally blunt, telling Trump: “You fucked your presidency up.” After his election defeat, Trump ignored all such dissenting voices, and embraced Rudy Giuliani’s wild conspiracy theories, clinging desperately to data that Giuliani literally made up out of thin air.

One of Peril’s most extraordinary chapters reveals, for the first time, an Oval Office meeting between Trump and Mike Pence on the evening before the insurrection. This was Trump’s last-ditch attempt to convince Pence to decertify the election results. Trump tempts Pence like the devil, offering all the kingdoms of the world: “wouldn’t it almost be cool to have that power?” When that fails, he turns into a petulent child: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this.”

Peril includes equally dramatic material on the Biden administration, revealing an intelligence briefing that warned Biden of the disastrous consequences of a sudden withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Woodward and Costa summarise the briefing, which now seems remarkably prescient: “The capital, Kabul, and other cities ultimately fall and the Taliban take over, amounting to a collapse of the Afghan state in months to years.” As they demonstrate, “Biden was abandoning Afghanistan to civil war and potential collapse,” contradicting Biden’s claim that he had not received such warnings.

The book also quotes extensively from a phone call between Biden and Vladimir Putin. Rather than the usual diplomatic readout, we see how direct Putin can be when he tells Biden: “I’m upset you called me a killer”. In a later call, Biden warns Putin that Russia is vulnerable to US cyber espionage: “great countries have great responsibilities. They also have great vulnerabilities.” (Trump’s views on Putin are not mentioned in Peril, though he is quoted referring to Angela Merkel, with his usual charm, as a “bitch kraut”.)

Peril is the fifteenth Trump book reviewed here. The others are: Fear, Rage, I Alone Can Fix It, A Very Stable Genius, Fire and Fury, Inside Trump’s White House, The United States of Trump, Trump’s Enemies, The Trump White House, Too Much and Never Enough, The Room Where It Happened, Team of Five, American Carnage, and The Cost.

25 October 2021

Develop Viriyaporn Who Dared in Three Worlds


Develop Viriyaporn Who Dared in Three Worlds

Who is Viriyaporn Boonprasert? She has submitted quite a few films to the Thai Short Film Festival, though the organisers have no idea who she is. Her short films, with their ironic juxtapositions of found footage, satirise the elitism and nationalism of the Thai political establishment.

Viriyaporn’s Ghost of Centralworld, from her Develop Blessing Giant Dhamma in Three Worlds (เจริญพรมหาธรรมใน 3 โลก) series, was made in response to the 2010 military crackdown. It features an emotional account from the father of Kittipong Somsuk, whose death was caused by arsonists who burnt the Zen department store, followed by news footage of the store’s reopening, when tragedy and political controversy were swept away in the name of consumerism.

Viriyaporn Boonprasert is a pseudonym, and presumably she disguises her identity because her work deals with Thai politics and touches on the ultra-sensitive issue of the monarchy. One of her short films, พ่อจ๋าหนูอยากกลับบ้าน (‘daddy, I want to go home’), submitted to Filmvirus Wildtype, was too controversial even for that progressive group, and the organisers reluctantly declined to screen it. (The film features photographs of King Rama X and his youngest son living in Germany.)

The mysterious tale of the anonymous filmmaker is told in the short documentary Develop Viriyaporn Who Dared in Three Worlds (เจริญวิริญาพรมาหาทำใน 3 โลก), which was released on YouTube yesterday. Director Kanyarat Theerakrittayakorn interviewed various film experts—including Chalida Uabumrungjit, Chulayarnnon Siriphol, Jit Phokaew, and Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa—who speculate on Viriyaporn’s real identity. They even begin to suspect each other, as Thai cinephiles are a close-knit group and she seems to be an insider. This leads to bemused denials by some contributors, and Viriyaporn remains an enigma.

22 October 2021

Danse Macabre


Danse Macabre Remember Supernatural

“Thunska who makes everything sexy.”
“But I’m talking about death in this one...”

From Eros to Thanatos: Danse Macabre (มรณสติ) begins with director Thunska Pansittivorakul explaining to a dance choreographer that his new documentary explores darker territory. Unlike his last film, the sexually frank Avalon (แดนศักดิ์สิทธิ์), Danse Macabre juxtaposes accounts of violent deaths with interpretive dance routines.

The film was codirected by Phassarawin Kulsomboon, and will have its world premiere at the Doclisboa film festival in Lisbon on 27th October. Thunska’s Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา) was named best film at Doclisboa in 2019.

As the proverb says, death is the great leveller. But in Thailand, one of the world’s most unequal societies, not even death can rupture the social hierarchy. Danse Macabre highlights the disparity between the deaths of royals and commoners: kings receive lavish state funerals followed by prolonged periods of enforced national mourning, whereas murder victims become objects of public spectacle as undignified crowds of gawping onlookers gather freely at crime scenes.

The starkest contrast is that between King Rama VIII (who died from a bullet wound in 1946) and Porlajee Rakchongcharoen (a human rights activist nicknamed Billy who was murdered in 2014). The King’s corpse was placed in a golden urn atop a gilded chariot. Porlajee’s body, however, was stuffed unceremoniously into an oil drum. (Pin Sasao’s installation ถังแดง​: ความตายของบิลลี่—‘red barrel: the death of Billy’—also addresses Porlajee’s murder.)

In Thunska’s documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), one interviewee mentions “soldiers getting beaten to death during training” and shortly after that film was completed, army cadet Phakhapong Tanyakan died during a training exercise. Danse Macabre has an equally tragic topicality: on 20th July, just a few days after the rough cut was finished, three people dropped dead on the streets of Bangkok, and their bodies were left in situ for hours. (Thunska added an epilogue highlighting these recent cases.)

Danse Macabre also deals with Thai state violence, from the massacres of October 1976—also covered in The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย)—May 1992, and May 2010, to the recent student protests. Footage of riot police firing water canon last year is cut to the beat of the Subtitle Project’s song Remember. The track’s Thai title, วน, literally translates as ‘loop’, indicating the cyclical nature of violent state oppression. (Thunska directed the music video for Remember when it was released as a single.)

Like Thunska’s Reincarnate (จุติ), Danse Macabre begins with a written prologue explaining the Thai law under which “a film may be banned as unsuitable for public exhibition” and then proceeds to deliberately flout those rules. I interviewed Thunska about this law for Thai Cinema Uncensored, and one of his early features, This Area is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน), was the first film to fall foul of it. Thunska uses explicit sexual content as a political commentary in many films, and Danse Macabre is no exception: it includes photos from vintage porn magazines to show how Thailand has since become more culturally—and, by implication, politically—conservative.

Even more provocatively, the indirect allusions to the monarchy in his sci-fi dystopia Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ) are replaced by a direct account of modern Thai royal history, including a subliminal image hinting at an explanation for the death of Rama VIII. Three scapegoats were executed for the King’s murder on 17th February 1955, and coded references to that date appear in Danse Macabre, Supernatural, and the Remember music video.

18 October 2021

Keep in the Dark


Tawan Wattuya’s new exhibition Keep in the Dark features watercolour portraits of pro-democracy protesters and campaigners who have been jailed or abducted, including Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul (Rung), Arnon Nampa (Lawyer Anon), and Porlajee Rakchongcharoen (Billy), among many others. The first work in the exhibition is a portrait of Prayut Chan-o-cha, titled I ____ Too: the missing word is ‘hear’, a pun on the protest chant “ai hia Tu”. (Ai hia is a suitably strong insult, and Tu is Prayut’s nickname.) The work that gives the exhibition its title, Keep in the Dark, shows the announcement of Prayut’s 2014 coup.

The lavish exhibition catalogue comes with three postcards, and includes an essay by curator Kritsada Duchsadeevanich outlining Thailand’s recurring political crisis: “Young people take to the streets demanding political transformation. Those in power use brute force to suppress the young protesters mercilessly.” Keep in the Dark opened on 14th October at Silpakorn University Art Centre in Bangkok, and runs until 27th November. Tawan’s previous exhibitions include Amnesia, which coincided with the publication of his monograph Works 2009-2019.

16 October 2021

Uncensored


Uncensored Uncensored Uncensored

Uncensored (ศิลปะปลดปล่อย), a group exhibition curated by Headache Stencil, opened today at the Jam Factory in Bangkok. The original Uncensored was a one-day event, though this new exhibition runs until 22nd November. (There was also a smaller-scale sequel, Uncensored 2, held in Chiang Mai.)

The exhibition features a mix of new and older works, by more than thirty artists. From Uncensored 2, there’s a collage by Spanky Studio featuring the Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) newspaper. Also on show again is The Sound of Elite, from the Propaganda Children’s Day (วันเด็กชั่งชาติ) exhibition. Both of these refer to the 6th October 1976 massacre, and in another reference to that event, a folding chair is suspended from the gallery ceiling.

A drawing by director Yuthlert Sippapak is also included, which shows Suthep Thaugsuban trampling on the constitution, a comment on the anti-democratic nature of his ‘Shutdown Bangkok’ campaign. Yellow!, a skateboard displayed on a small plinth, features a painting by Nawat Lertsawaengkit.

13 October 2021

Calmer Rouge


Calmer Rouge Calmer Rouge

Calmer Rouge, a performance art event by Artn’t, is taking place until tomorrow in front of the Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai. The performance began on 6th October, and it marks the anniversaries of Thailand’s two historical October massacres: 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976.

One of the props used throughout the event is a folding chair—in reference to a notorious Neal Ulevich photograph from 1976—splattered with symbolic blue paint. A mock guillotine was similarly painted blue at an anti-government demonstration in Bangkok on 18th July.

Errata: Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories


Errata Errata

The group exhibition Errata: Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories opened at MAIIAM in Chiang Mai on 30th July, and runs until 1st November (subsequently extended to 14th February 2022). Works relating to Thailand’s two notorious October massacres are included: Arin Rungjang’s And Then There Were None: Tomorrow We Will Become Thailand is a series of paintings based on news photographs from 14th October 1973, and Thasnai Sethaseree’s untitled collages feature partially obscured news photos of 6th October 1976.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s video The Class is also included. It was shown previously at two group exhibitions in Bangkok—Crossover and Dialogues—and a transcript of the video appears in Araya’s book Art and Words (ศิลปะกับถ้อยความ).

The Year of the Everlasting Storm


The Year of the Everlasting Storm

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest feature film, Memoria, won the Jury Prize after its world premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film received a standing ovation, after which Apichatpong memorably declared: “Long live cinema!” With coronavirus vaccines in short supply and the registration system in disarray, he also used his Cannes acceptance speech as an opportunity to call on the Thai government to “please wake up, and work for your people, now.”

A promotional clip from Memoria attracted attention in Thailand for its political meaning: Tilda Swinton’s character performs a magic trick with a red, white, and blue handkerchief, making the blue colour disappear. Blue has a symbolic meaning on the Thai flag, and in an online Q&A with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, Apichatpong confirmed: “I chose the colours.” Last week, the film’s distributors announced that it would never be available on any video format, and instead would remain an exclusively theatrical presentation.

Apichatpong’s short film Night Colonies also premiered at Cannes, as part of the anthology film The Year of the Everlasting Storm. Night Colonies combines two of the director’s consistent themes, light and the natural world, as it features insects buzzing around neon lights. The film begins with a poem paying tribute to “distant friends, and those who had disappeared”, a reference to pro-democracy campaigners self-exiled or abducted following lèse-majesté charges.

The poem continues: “The young leaves unfold, flushed with memories in the year of the everlasting storm.” In addition to giving the portmanteau film its title, these lines are also a metaphor for the student protesters campaigning for reform of the monarchy. In fact, the film’s soundtrack includes audio recorded at protests in Bangkok on 27th July and 20th August 2020.

Apichatpong’s exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย)—now on show at 100 Tonson in Bangkok—also addresses the murder of lèse-majesté suspects, and the title of his short film October Rumbles (เสียงฟ้าเดือนตุลา) hints at the rumblings of dissent from the student protesters. He co-directed the video installation Silence—shown at 100 Tonson last week—which refers directly to the tragic “memories” mentioned in the Night Colonies poem.

07 October 2021

Sun Rises When Day Breaks


Sun Rises When Day Breaks Kraipit Phanvut

The Thai band View from the Bus Tour released their new single Sun Rises When Day Breaks (ลิ่วล้อ) on 5th October, an appropriate date as it was written in support of the 5 ตุลาฯ ตะวันจะมาเมื่อฟ้าสาง (‘5th Oct.: sun rises when day breaks’) campaign and uses the campaign’s slogan as its English title. The song is one of several commemorating the 45th anniversary of the 6th October 1976 massacre.

The music video for Sun Rises When Day Breaks begins with a recreation of an iconic news photograph from the massacre - not the ubiquitous image of a man hitting a corpse with a chair, but instead a photo by Kraipit Phanvut showing a police colonel (Salang Bunnag) aiming his pistol while nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. Director Anocha Suwichakornpong restaged the same photo at the start of her film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง), and it has also been reappropriated by artists such as Headache Stencil.

45 ปี 6 ตุลาฯ: ข้อคิดจากคนเดือนตุลา


This year, Thammasat University refused permission for an exhibition commemorating the 6th October 1976 massacre (citing the coronavirus pandemic), though it did publish a book to mark the 45th anniversary of the event. 45 ปี 6 ตุลาฯ: ข้อคิดจากคนเดือนตุลา (‘45 years of 6th Oct.: thoughts from Octobrists’), edited by Kasidit Ananthanathorn, reproduces the notorious Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) front page that sparked the massacre (on page 80). The Dao Siam page is rarely reprinted, though it did appear in the June 2012 issue of Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine, and in the books Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย) and Moments of Silence.

06 October 2021

45 ปี 6 ตุลา


Burning Sky Lucky Leg

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the 6th October 1976 massacre. There is no official 6th October exhibition at Thammasat University this year (apparently due to pressure from the government), though a large painting by Lucky Leg was displayed on campus today. (It depicts a monk tying a chord around a dead man’s neck, in reference to Kittivuddho Bhikku, the monk who encouraged the killing of Communists.) More of his work is currently on show at the Specter (ปีศาจ) exhibition, and there have been plenty of other artistic responses to the anniversary.

5 ตุลาฯ ตะวันจะมาเมื่อฟ้าสาง (‘5th Oct.: sun rises when day breaks’), the team behind the recent ‘museum in a box’, released a half-hour documentary at midnight this morning. The film, Dawn of a New Day (ก่อนฟ้าสาง), traces the history of the student protest movement from the 14th October 1973 uprising to the 1976 massacre. As in the short film Pirab (พิราบ), the violence of 6th October is represented in sound only, over a blank screen. It ends with footage of water cannon being used against students on 16th October 2020—showing that the mantle of pro-democracy protest has passed to a new generation—and a list of the names of the 6th October victims.

Silence, a three-channel video commemorating 6th October, opened today at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok. The video—co-directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr, Chatchai Suban, and Pathompong Manakitsomboon—is part of Apichatpong’s exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย), and will be on show until 10th October. Silence includes autopsy photographs of 6th October victims, and graphic footage of the desecration of their corpses. It also shows how prejudice is inculcated, with flashcards of pejoratives such as ‘หนักแผ่นดิน’ (‘scum of the earth’) and ‘ควายแดง’ (‘red buffalo’).

Rap Against Dictatorship released a new music video today, which also refers to 6th October. The video—Burning Sky (ไฟไหม้ฟ้า), directed by Skanbombomb—features a hanging corpse shown in silhouette, and ends with a caption commemorating the massacre. The silhouette echoes Rap Against Dictatorship’s most famous video, My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี), which included a mannequin hanging from a tree.

A music video by T_047—ความฝันยามรุ่งสาง (‘dreaming at dawn’), directed by Yanna—also released today, begins with a toddler watching footage of 6th October on multiple TV screens. Another music video released today, หัวใจเสรี (‘free heart’) by TaitosmitH, has no content directly related to 6th October, though it was released in solidarity with the movement to commemorate the massacre; directed under a pseudonym (อัมรินทร์ อินทารักษ์, meaning ‘Ammarin defender’) it features footage of recent anti-government protests in Bangkok, filmed at Siam Square and Democracy Monument.

05 October 2021

Essential Desires: Contemporary Art in Thailand


Brian Curtin, one of Bangkok’s leading art critics, has written a superb guide to the Thai art scene, Essential Desires: Contemporary Art in Thailand. Decade by decade, Curtin surveys the artists and institutions at the forefront of Thai contemporary art. The book documents the emergent art spaces of the 1990s, with rare images of exhibition flyers and installation views, and extensive political context.

One of the book’s central arguments is that “questions of nation and nationalism have been unavoidable in accounting for Thai art”, and Curtin considers how artists respond to the problematic state-imposed notion of ‘Thainess’. Manit Sriwanichpoom, Vasan Sitthiket, and Sutee Kunavichayanont, for example, collaborated on group exhibitions that critiqued modern Thai history to some extent, though Curtin argues that their “avowal of problems within the national status quo did not involve a fundamental questioning of its general terms, symbols, concern with appearances or essential desire for unity.”

Noting that Manit, Vasan, and Sutee all supported the anti-democratic PDRC campaign, Curtin contrasts them with more subversive recent artists such as Pisitakun Kuantalaeng and Jakkhai Siributr, who demonstrate a “post-national sensibility characterized by the challenging of the very possibility of national allegiance.” Vasan’s Blue October (ตุลาลัย) and Jakkhai’s 78 are among the many full-page illustrations. Other works illustrated include Miti Ruangkritya’s Thai Politics III, Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s The Class III and In a Blur of Desire (ในความพร่ามัวของปรารถนา), Harit Srikhao’s Chosen Boys, Withit Sembutr’s Doo Phra, and (the cover image) Michael Shaowanasi’s Portrait of a Man in Habits.

The book also examines the various galleries and other cultural institutions established over the past three decades (though not MAIIAM, surprisingly). Most notable among these is the state-funded BACC, host to a series of large-scale survey shows, including Traces of Siamese Smile (รอยยิ้มสยาม) and Thai Trends (ไทยเท), with their “strained and anxious references to local identity and tradition.” Curtin notes that these bloated ‘prestige’ exhibitions were curated by Apinan Poshyananda, a former artist who is now a senior figure at the conservative Ministry of Culture. In an especially astute observation, he laments Apinan’s “assimilation to the machinery of the state”.

Apinan wrote the last extensive monograph on Thai art, Modern Art in Thailand (copies of which are now scarce). Since then, Steven Pettifor’s Flavours and Serenella Ciclitira’s Thailand Eye have featured profiles of individual Thai artists, though Essential Desires is the first survey of the entire landscape of Thai contemporary art for almost thirty years.