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. It will run until 22nd August, although access will be limited as the city entered another 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).

12 July 2021

Dark

Dark
Dark
Dark
Jirapatt Aungsumalee’s exhibition Dark opened at VS Gallery in Bangkok yesterday. Anuwat Apimukmongkon’s A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise is also on show at the same gallery, though the city began another lockdown today, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Because of this, Dark has been extended from 11th September to 13th November.

Dark features portraits of anonymous military officers and state bureaucrats against black backgrounds, their faces obscured and their positions only identifiable from their uniforms. As the catalogue puts it, these figures occupy seats of power interchangeably, like a horrific game of musical chairs (“ณ ที่นั่งแห่งอำนาจอย่างกับเกมเก้าอี้ดนตรีสยองขวัญ”).

There are also equally dark paintings inspired by the recent anti-government protests. These are titled ประกาย (‘spark’) and สีสัน (‘colourful’), suggesting that the protesters and their symbols—such as Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul (ประกาย I) and an inflatable yellow duck (สีสัน I)—offer a ray of light in the darkness.

10 July 2021

Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok

Journalist Emma Larkin’s first novel, Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok, was published in May. (Born in Thailand, Larkin uses a pen name to avoid scrutiny from the authorities while she reports from Myanmar.) The eponymous Aeon is a former Communist insurgent, who fled to the jungle following the 6th October 1976 massacre.

Aeon has since returned to Bangkok, though he (like the city) remains haunted by state violence against civilian protesters. Working as a history teacher, he sees first-hand how 6th October has been whitewashed from the national curriculum—a point made by Vasan Sitthiket in his video Delete Our History, Now! (อำนาจ/การลบทิ้ง)—and searches for what little evidence remains, “the seldom-seen photographs of semi-conscious students burned on funeral pyres made of tyres, and dead bodies hung from the tamarind trees on the parade ground.”

The novel is set in 2009, when red-shirt protesters instigated violence during the Songkran holiday. As one character says, “Did you hear they attacked the Prime Minister’s car?”—Abhisit Vejjajiva’s motorcade was mobbed, an incident recreated in Wisit Sasanatieng’s film The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง). The red-shirt protests culminated in another state crackdown, in 2010, though the novel focuses on the aftermath of the 1992 ‘Black May’ massacre.

In the days following ‘Black May’, there were credible rumours of military vehicles disposing of hundreds of bodies, who were omitted from the official tally of victims. Larkin recounts the “talk of an army truck driving into a bone mill on the outskirts of Bangkok late one night, the cargo heaped under its tarpaulin conspicuously absent when it drove out again, and reports of military helicopters flying east from the city towards the border with Burma, dropping bodies into the impenetrable jungle below.”

The story’s starting point is a fictional incident that seems to confirm these rumours: bodies found in a sunken shipping container and buried in wasteland. The novel presents these grisly discoveries as proof of “an operation to deal with the ‘excess collateral damage’ resulting from the crackdown on protesters at Sanam Luang”, though a government spokesman dismisses the matter out of hand: “Gazing wearily at the nation, he appeared to ad lib as he took off his spectacles and said in a more casual, almost avuncular tone, ‘So, it’s best that you all go about your business now and forget this incident.’”

Larkin was inspired by two works of political history: William A. Callahan’s Imagining Democracy (now scarce, but the best account of ‘Black May’ in English) and Thongchai Winnichakul’s Moments of Silence. (Aeon “tracked down some of the leaders of the right-wing gangs that had massed in Sanam Luang”, in an echo of the Silence of the Wolf chapter in Thongchai’s book.) Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok is one of several recent novels set in times of Thai political conflict, including Sunisa Manning’s A Good True Thai, Duanwad Pimwana’s ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว (‘indescribable fiction’), Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’), and Jakkapan Kangwan’s Altai Villa (อัลไตวิลล่า).

06 June 2021

Battle for the Soul

Battle for the Soul
Tim Alberta’s American Carnage detailed the Republican Party’s radical transformation in the Trump era, and Edward-Isaac Dovere’s new book Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats’ Campaigns to Defeat Trump examines the Democratic Party’s regrouping during Trump’s term of office. Whereas Trump led the Republicans down a path (or cul-de-sac) of extremism, the 2020 Democratic nominee—Joe Biden—was aligned with his party’s moderate wing (though his presidency has been more progressive than many predicted).

Battle for the Soul’s title is adapted from an article Biden wrote for The Atlantic magazine in 2017, in the aftermath of the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally: “We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation.” The book features Biden’s first Oval Office interview as President, in which he draws “a direct line” between Trump’s endorsement of the Charlottesville white supremacists and the 6th January storming of the Capitol.

Although Dovere covers the Democratic Party after Barack Obama’s presidency, it’s Obama who provides the book’s juiciest quotes. At off-the-record fundraising events with Democratic Party donors, he called Trump “a racist, sexist pig”, “that fucking lunatic” and, for good measure, “that corrupt motherfucker”.

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, Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า), 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”).

02 June 2021

American Carnage

American Carnage
Tim Alberta’s American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump reveals how Republican Party factions battled each other and Donald Trump for the soul of the party. (Edward-Isaac Dovere’s new book Battle for the Soul offers a similar account of the Democrat Party’s internal divisions in the Trump era.)

American Carnage covers a decade of intramural conflict, from the rise and fall of the Tea Party to the Republican Party’s gradual embrace of Trump’s disruptive populism. Sources include former House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, and an Oval Office interview with President Trump. (The book was published in 2019.) Its title is taken from the key soundbite of Trump’s inauguration speech: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now” (a speech that George W. Bush described as “some weird shit”).

Alberta sets out his stall on the very first page, writing that Trump “spent his first two years as president conducting himself in a manner so self-evidently unbecoming of the office—trafficking in schoolyard taunts, peddling brazen untruths, cozying up to murderous tyrants, tearing down our national institutions, weaponizing the gears of government for the purpose of self-preservation, preying on racial division and cultural resentment”. And all of that was before the double impeachment and attempted insurrection.

In his most evocative and alarming passage, Alberta describes Trump revelling almost maniacally in the adulation he received from (in Hillary Clinton’s words) the deplorables at his rallies: “Preparing to take the stage, the president seemed to feel it all—the crowd, the music, the energy, the media glare—coursing through his veins. “I fucking love this job!” he howled into the November night.”

01 June 2021

Democracy.exe

Untitled for Us / Untitled for Them
Democracy.exe
White Bird
Aomtip Kerdplanant
The Untitled for Film group held a screening of short films on 29th May, providing a platform for young, independent directors to respond to seven years of Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. The event, Democracy.exe, was originally to form part of the Untitled for Us / Untitled for Them season at the RDX Offsite gallery in Bangkok. The season was scheduled to run from 3rd April to 24th May, with the Democracy.exe films to be shown from 2nd to 8th May, though the screening ultimately took place online (streamed via Facebook Live) due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The programme began with Panya Zhu’s White Bird, in which an origami bird (representing a dove of peace?) is seen at various locations around Bangkok, including Ratchaprasong, the 14th October 1973 Memorial, Democracy Monument, and Thammasat University. These are all sites with histories of political violence and are thus, to use Dutch painter Armando’s term, ‘guilty landscapes’. (Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s short film Planking and Pachara Piyasongsoot’s painting What a Wonderful World feature similarly ‘guilty landscapes’, silent witnesses to past traumas.) Prayut’s announcement of his coup is heard on the soundtrack, and the film ends with the lowering of the Thai flag, symbolising the country’s political regression.

Democracy.exe also featured four short documentaries by Ratakorn Sirileark, filmed at anti-government protests last year. 21 October 2020: The Event Nearby the Government House and 8 November 2020: The Unintentional Mistake (8 November 2020: มือลั่น) were, like the others in the series, filmed in black-and-white. In 17 November 2020: Tear Gas and Water Canon [sic], Ratakorn documents the grossly disproportionate use of tear gas and water cannon by riot police, with Paint It, Black by the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack. (This is also the subject of Sorayos Prapapan’s short film Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship.) The title of Ratakorn’s 26 October 2020: The Owner of the Mutt is a reference to King Rama X, who has a pet poodle.

The final film in the programme was Aomtip Kerdplanant’s 16 ตุลา (‘16 Oct.’), a drama in which three student protest leaders debate their tactics in the aftermath of the 2014 coup: should they apply for a protest permit, or not?; should they organise a flashmob, or a large-scale rally? The three students could, of course, be substitutes for Arnon Nampa (released on bail today), Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, and Parit Chirawak; they also resemble the protagonists of Sunisa Manning’s novel A Good True Thai.

16 ตุลา shows how the students’ lives have changed in the years since their initial campaign, indicating how seasoned protesters can become disillusioned, and how Prayut has become entrenched in Thai politics. The title is a conflation of two massacres, on 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976, which have been whitewashed to such an extent that many people believe they are synonymous. The film ends with a written caption endorsing the three demands of the real-life student protest movement: Prayut’s resignation, a democratic constitution, and reform of the monarchy.

06 May 2021

Putin’s People

Putin's People
Five lawsuits have recently been filed against the author and publisher of Putin’s People. Catherine Belton’s book (subtitled How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West) received superlative reviews when it was published a year ago. Belton was the FT’s Moscow correspondent for six years, and Alexei Navalny brandished a copy of her book in his viral video Дворец для Путина: История самой большой взятки (‘Putin’s palace: the world’s biggest bribe’).

Roman Abramovich filed the first libel suit on 22nd March, challenging Belton’s allegation that he purchased Chelsea FC on Vladimir Putin’s instructions. Belton writes that “Putin directed Abramovich to buy the club, claimed a Russian tycoon and a former Abramovich associate.” Aside from these two off-the-record sources, she also interviewed Sergei Pugachev, whom she quotes directly: “Putin personally told me of his plan to acquire the Chelsea Football Club in order to increase his influence”.

Pugachev, a defector from Putin’s inner circle, was described by a UK High Court judge in 2017 as “a person quite willing to lie and put forward false statements deliberately if it would suit his purpose.” Belton acknowledges his reputation as an unreliable witness, though she quotes him extensively nevertheless.

On Tuesday, the FT revealed that four other lawsuits were filed against Belton and her publisher, HarperCollins, last month. In what appears to be a coordinated campaign to silence any criticism of Putin’s regime, the Russian businessmen Mikhail Fridman and Shalva Chigirinsky sued for libel, as did the Kremlin-controlled oil company Rosneft. Peter Aven, Fridman’s business partner, sued for breach of data protection.

03 May 2021

REDEM

REDEM
A protest by REDEM (Restart Democracy) outside Bangkok’s Criminal Court yesterday evening ended with riot police firing rubber bullets at protesters for the third time this year. REDEM protesters gathered at Victory Monument yesterday afternoon, and marched to the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road. They had intended to march past the military barracks on Viphavadi Rangsit Road, where rubber bullets were used against them on 28th February, though access was blocked and the protest route was diverted.

When the protesters reached the Criminal Court, REDEM handed out tomatoes and eggs, which were thrown at the Court entrance. REDEM announced the end of the short demonstration at 6pm, and most protesters dispersed, though some stragglers remained, throwing firecrackers at the Court building. They later retreated to nearby Ratchadaphisek Soi 32, where they were confronted by riot police armed with water cannon and rubber bullets.

Rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannon were also used against REDEM protesters at Sanam Luang on 20th March, after they pulled down shipping containers erected to block access to the Grand Palace. Several journalists reporting on the demonstration were also hit by rubber bullets, and clashes with riot police continued late into the night.

26 April 2021

The Patani Art of Struggle

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

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

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

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

20 April 2021

Lets Kill

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

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

การเมืองโมเบียส

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

Death to Dictator

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

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

19 April 2021

Altai Villa

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

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

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

18 April 2021

ไข่แมวX

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

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

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

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

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.

27 March 2021

ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว

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

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

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

“Fox recklessly disregarded the truth...”

Dominion Voting Systems yesterday filed defamation charges against Fox News, seeking $1.6 billion in damages. Their lawsuit accuses the network of broadcasting “a series of verifiably false yet devastating lies” and “outlandish, defamatory, and far-fetched fictions” in the aftermath of last year’s US presidential election.

Fox News hosts Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Sean Hannity, and Jeanine Pirro spread outlandish conspiracy theories in the weeks after the election, seeking to cast doubt on Joe Biden’s victory by falsely alleging that Dominion rigged the election. Dominion’s lawsuit states: “Fox recklessly disregarded the truth. Indeed, Fox knew these statements about Dominion were lies.”

The allegations of election fraud were also repeated on a daily basis by Donald Trump himself, who refused to concede the election. The ultimate impact of such dangerous misinformation, and the culmination of Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in American institutions, came on 6th January when he incited a riot at the US Capitol.

Fox News defended another of its hosts, Tucker Carlson, against defamation charges last year, arguing that his show should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”, and last month Fox Business cancelled Lou Dobbs Tonight, its highest-rated show. Smartmatic, another voting technology company, is currently suing Fox for $2.7 billion.

15 March 2021

Micro Politics

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

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

12 March 2021

Coup, King, Crisis

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

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

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