Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Protest Art,” by Manit Sriwanichpoom. / 2006

“ Protest Art,” by Manit Sriwanichpoom, in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly news, Yr. 52, Vol. 45, 31 Mar – 6 Apr. 2006.

In the year 2050 CE, the British Parliament and the Big Ben clock tower are blown up. The brightness of the explosion and the fireworks set off to celebrate the destructions of symbols of the fraudulent government drive away the darkness of the night and the dark power of the dictator who ruled London for a long time.

That was a very satisfying fantasy scene at the conclusion of “V for Vendetta,” a film celebrating anarchy and terrorism. My friends called and insisted I go to see it. It went very well with Thailand’s situation in 2006 – which is really not so very far from the movie.

“The people should not fear the government; the government should be afraid of the people.” These are the words of the hero, a mysterious individual concealing himself behind a mask of Guy Fawkes (who tried to blow up the houses of parliament in London many centuries before). These words would be appropriate for those who believe in democracy rather than in anarchy and terrorism.

In any case, when society has no other way to go, and the country is in the hands of a dictator (the whole parliament), violence is the last option, and it cannot be avoided.

After watching the movie to its end, I said to myself I would like to see the Parliament building, Government House, the Constitutional Court, the kor-kor-tor, the kor-lor-tor, and all the rest blown to ruins. But when I realized that doing so would not solve the problem, and that things couldn’t end as neatly as they did in the film, I went back to talk with my auntie. A woman between 60 and 70 years of age, she screamed, Taksin! Get Out!

The speaker on the platform for the People’s Alliance for Democracy to unseat Taksin said that it is a gathering calling for people who are politically mature. Most of these people who have come to demonstrate understand the situation very well. Importantly, it is a peaceful demonstration, without violence.

I agree with that. And I pray that these gatherings will go on peacefully, without the bloodshed we have seen in the past. This is another reason which makes me understand and agree with the call for a royally appointed prime minister, as the Alliance is urging, according to Article 7 [of the Constitution]. It’s a good choice, the best option in a situation like this, to avoid loss. (Except some people think that without bloodshed and death, there’s no crisis.) In any case, it won’t be easy to get Taksin to resign, because the Shin Corp.deal with Themasek for 70,000 million baht is a personal gain which he will have to protect at all costs.

While looking for a way out of the problem, I used my free time before going to listen to the platform speakers by walking about the demonstration and the footpath used as a ‘political area’ by the people who joined the meeting. They came to express their feelings and opinions. There were people oppressed by the prime minister’s family. And there were people who had suffered with the tsunami, and who had lost their land to capitalists favored by Taksin.
On the gate in front of Government House there was a sign, “Government House For Rent.” Some demonstrators set up a store to boil coffee ‘to save the country.’ Take it to overcome drowsiness and to soothe thirst. A few steps further on, a ‘fortune teller’ was on duty. And then shadow puppets told about people who had suffered in the tsunami. There were some coffins laid out for Taksin and his wife, with candles, incense and curses.

The middle of the road is taken over with tents of the Santi Asoke Dhamma Army. A table has been set up as an altar. There is traditional massage offered, and free food prepared for the demonstrators. All along Phitsanuloke Road and in front of Government House is a large demonstration, indeed, calling for Taksin to get out!

After walking awhile, I turned on to outer Rachadamnoen Road. I saw the ‘Protest Art’ put up by many groups and many callings. There were ‘movie posters’ such as ‘Shinawat Productions and the Moon Shines on the Earth.’ (Taksin used to be in the movie business.) Whose work it was, I don’t know, but the skill in editing images of Taksin and company in Thai, Chinese, Korean and Hollywood posters was quite good. Posters included, ‘Lord of Evil,’ ‘Shin City’, ‘Destructive Demon of the World,’ etc.

One kid had copied and printed images for sale on 4 x 6 inch cards. One was ‘Taksin with Hitler.’ The anonymous creator of this composite gave Taksin a little mustache; he also holds a small sign which says, ‘Sawasdika,’ as he sits in a car with Adolf Hitler, riding in a parade. No other words are given or required.

Another Nazi poster uses the face of Taksin (the color is a bit scary), i.e. Taksin’s face over Hitler’s face (I think) with the words ‘Get the fuck out! Tyrant! A corrupted man! Don’t let him rule!

The last picture is a portrait of the leader, Taksin, in a Nazi uniform. It seems to come from a black and white portrait of Hitler with the word, Taksin…A red Nazi flag waves on a black background.

I think Wasan Sittiket was the first to put the Hitler-mustache on Taksin. After that, the debate was on: who was worse, Taksin or Hitler?

Some Thai scholars came on the platform and claimed that Taksin was the worst because he was behind the killing of a thousand people accused of being drug dealers, and the deaths of Muslim people at the Kruseh mosque and at Tak Bai. And he did it all for himself – unlike Hitler, who worked for the kingdom of Germany. But a white tourist said it was not so, because Hitler started the second World War and practiced genocide against millions of Jews.

In any case, the black heads and the red heads both agreed that both Hitler and Taksin both came to power by election.

An art reporter for the newspaper commented that this demonstration uses a lot of art to make it livelier. There are spot commercials ridiculing the Taksin government in the form of Chinese opera and even Rap music. Politics creates a lot of fun and entertainment for the demonstrators. I can’t remember whether there was less art during the Black May incident of 1992.

But what I did notice was the not a few of the people joining these demonstrations had creative ideas and had created posters of their own. They came by taxi and brought them to the demonstration. (Of course, anyone who spoke badly of Taksin would be chased out of the taxi.) Many people with backpacks came by BTS. Many carried them in the back of their cars. They prepared their own comforts – it wasn’t a paid mob. When did hired mobs ever have their own creative ideas?

So, now I understand that protests don’t lack for art. Because protests themselves create negotiations, chatting, calling for…pleading and bargaining between sides to reach objectives. In order to get results, you need art.

Oi! Pojaman won’t wait. She’ll hurry to fly to Singapore, a large woman in a sparkling gown with fan in hand to cool herself.

‘And why won’t she wait for Khun Taksin,’ asks the audience. ‘She’s crazy!’

‘Bye, bye now.’ She waves, and disappears among the mass of protesters.

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