Sunday, October 3, 2010

Manit Sriwanichpoom, ‘ Art After Red May 1 – Imagine Peace.’

Manit Sriwanichpoom, ‘ Art After Red May 1 – Imagine Peace,’ in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siam Rath Weekly News, yr. 58, vol. 1, 24-30 Sept.2010.

Unable to pressure PM Aphisit Vechachiwa to dissolve the Parliament and call for new elections, with corpses among the red shirts of those killed by the black shirts or by government soldiers, the casualties were sacrificed in hopes that the rising number of deaths would bring international or UN intervention to stop the violence and establish a provisional government.
On 19 May, 2010, the leaders of the red and the black shirts, with former PM Taksin Shinawatr pulling the strings, spoke from their stage provoking their people and their sympathizers to burn the city in retaliation at the ending of their more than two month long demonstration. The places they chose to burn and destroy were more than carefully chosen in advance; they were not selected by chance or by accident.

Normal Thai people were shocked, alarmed and demoralized, never imagining that their country could come to this. The poor and weak in the city and from the countryside were deceived into dying wretchedly. To what end? Central World (formerly called ‘World Trade Center,’ like the ones in NYC destroyed when members of Al Qaeda crashed passenger jets into them on 11 Sept. 2001), Center One, and the adjoining building were all destroyed by fire.

Many people, many families lost their fortunes and found themselves floundering as a result. The conflict between old and new power and those thirsting for power led Thai society into darkness and blindness, so broken and deeply dislocated that it becomes difficult to come back and talk without fist-fights breaking out.

A month after the burning of the city, the Ministry of Culture hosted an exhibition of contemporary art, ‘Imagine Peace,’ at the Bangkok Metropolitan Cultural Center (25 June – 22 August, 2010). The idea was to provide the more than 100 invited artists with a forum to express their need for peace, and to help heal the wounds of those who were impacted by the recent events.

On the opening day of the exhibition, a lady opera singer (soprano) sang the royal anthem in a ringing voice that echoed through the hall till the brand new Minister of Culture, Nipit Intornsombat, who presided at the opening, had to declare that he had never heard it sung so beautifully and meaningfully. It moved one to feel more than ever a sense of love and loyalty to the Crown.
Then, before entering the exhibition, Petch Ostanukra and his son introduced a new song – their latest – very light and pleasantly rocking – created in response to said recent events. The main idea of the song, ‘We are Thai People,’ was that though our ideas and beliefs differ, we are still all Thai together.

The document distributed at the opening consisted of a catalog of 4 pages (smaller than standard A4). The cover was a very indifferent graphic image of a dove bearing an olive branch. It goes back to the 6 October, 1976 era. The body of the bird was colored in patches of orange-yellow, light green and grayish blue. If anyone wondered who the curator for the show was, they weren’t telling. Maybe the curator wanted to ‘put the gold leaf on the back of the Buddha image,’ i.e. didn’t want to take any credit. Thus, if you wonder about all the late, big name artists whose works were included in the exhibition – Louise Bourgeois and Montien Boonme, for example - what were their ideas about the recent events: it’s not clear whom we should ask.

This pulling together of the energies of more than 100 artists in order to call for peace with the Ministry of Culture as host might be considered too hasty. The agencies arranging the show were under the direction and care of the government, which calls their legitimacy into question. Because, when the government has the advantage and can call upon the opposition to accept and join the peaceful and transparent peace process, the weight and interest of the general public would be much greater.

In any case, strolling through the show of works by these artists, young and old, four points of view can be discerned.

Attitudes from the Seat of Judgment

This group of artists places themselves above the conflict and both sides, red and yellow, judging and preaching to both that they leave aside passion, greed, anger and illusion. For example, the large acrylic painting entitled, ‘Peace will come: greed, anger and illusion in self must first be killed,’ by Kamin Lertchaiprasert. He has made a picture of the burning of tires before some buildings. Flames and black smoke rise up darkly in thick clouds. The artist creates an image of the event with lines which become an obscure black skull. The words ‘peace-picture’ are written in black in the eye sockets. The title of the work is written on the painting in decorative letters.

The small chalk on paper, ‘Thai People Divided’ by Chalermchai Kositpipat comes down sharply with the conclusion that ‘you are both just the same!’ The artist divides the picture into two parts and two colors, yellow and red. On these he draws two demonic faces from Thai hell which turn to confront each other. Upon the yellow head sits the Constitution, resting on its familiar ceremonial tray. Upon the red head stands a symbol of the scales of justice with three baskets hanging in place. The picture is divided down the center by a heavy black line. The artist has written the words, ‘Die! Die!’ (I still can’t figure out about the images of the Constitution and the scales of justice – how did the artist decide on which head to place which item?)

Some artists tried to ridicule and mock satirically, but the situation in the country is so depressed, the black humor falls flat, and the jokes all seem in bad taste.

For example, ‘A Game of Tug-of -War’ is a large oil painting by Somsak Raksuwan. It shows a middle-aged man in a Thai sarong. The man is gigantic and is depicted sitting at the Rachaprasong Intersection. The Central World Department Store is burning. The man, who looks like someone from Isarn, smiles broadly as if in delight, while two dwarves play at a game of tug-of-war, trying to pull him one way or another. The dwarf on the left looks like the leader of the red shirts. He wears the politician or businessman’s suit with a symbolic red tie. The dwarf on the right with a yellow necktie must be PM Aphisit. It is interesting that Somsak dares to propose in his work that the happiest and most amused in this game are the poor.

Attitudes From Above the World

This group of artists criticizes no one and has no opinion, or expresses none. They don’t want to dispute with anyone. They want to remain in their own world. In their works these artists choose rather to play with symbols, which is the safer path. There is no danger of disturbing one side or the other. A life-size bronze sculpture by Nontiwat Chantanapalin of a male looking fully satisfied in his meditation; an installation, ‘Love and Missing Peace,’ by Kanya Charoensupakul, which brings some 20 white paper sculptures of pigeons in various poses set out on a surface in the middle of a multicolored pyramid; or the oil painting of cranes in flight by Kamchorn Soonpongsri.

Naive Attitudes in the Middle

These artists see the problems, are aware of them, and know that the country is in crisis. Everyone must join to some extent in the search for a way out. So please, think positive! For example, the work entitled ‘Peace,’ a light box featuring a picture of the national flag, by Kris Ngamsom. The blackened national flag is being cleaned up by 11 transparent little figures. The flag’s tricolors are becoming visible, the red, white and blue underneath.

The large acrylic painting, ‘Please Don’t Despair,’ by Yuri Kensaku
, pictures in playful cartoon style a little girl weeping in a boat in the midst of stormy winds and waves. The artist chooses blunt, obtuse symbols. He uses a peach to represent the overcoming of despair. In a play on the resemblance of the peach to a heart, it lights up to encourage society. In another inane performance by the Slow Motion group at the opening of the show, two young men dressed as protesters in red and yellow shirts silently embraced one another, allowing the audience to empathize with them as a sculpture of peace.

The Attitude of Sharing Pain and Joy

It is interesting to note that few of the works in ‘Imagine Peace’ faced up in any way to the painfully depressing and tragic aspects of these violent events. It was as if those events had not actually occurred, never existed. The only work which addressed them was ‘Blind’ by Disorn Duangdao . In his work the artist used a large Thai flag died a burnt brown color which looked like dried blood. Hanging on the gallery’s white wall, it continued to drip on the gallery floor.

Written in English, the words of Che Guevara, ‘If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.’ And a small color photo recording traces of goods dragged out of a burned and gutted clothing store. The photo, taken by a white, Rupert Janes, was hung in a place off to the side out of the way of the audience, so as not to disturb anyone who might see it.

There has been criticism about the general lack of agreement and transparency, that there is a process of ‘sweeping everything under the rug, of trying to heal wounds without really attending to or cleansing them, of failing to sterilize before stitching. Such a wound is going to be infected and become worse than before.


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