Monday, March 14, 2011
Manit Sriwanichpoom, ‘A Cultural Constitution for Reform,’ 11-17 Feb. 2010.
Manit Sriwanichpoom, ‘A Cultural Constitution for Reform,’ in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly News magazine, Yr.58, Vol.21, 11-17 Feb. 2010.
Monday, 24 January just past, I was invited to join a meeting of the Assembly of Artists for Reform (in the Central Plain) on the topic of ‘What part will artists have in creating Thai society?’ This time, it was a meeting of just a small group in the visual arts. The first meeting, on 16 – 17 December, last year at Cholpreuk Resort in Nakorn Nayok brought together artists from every field.
The primary target was announced beforehand in the letter of invitation to subcommittee members in the network of artists for reform and the chairman of the Thailand Association of Writers, Ms. Chamaiporn Saengkrajarng, stated as follows:
“ …In order to give everyone a chance to get together as stakeholders and hosts to carry forward the work of reforming the country; to create awareness of people in society and support artists in creating works of art which emphasize justice and the reducing of inequality in society by communicating and giving rise to new imagination, including summarizing the major points to present which drive toward national reform, using art to reach the stage of the National Assembly for Reform in March, 2511.”
Before the meeting started, there were video presentations - “ Why Does Thailand Need Reform?” by Acharn Sakesan Prasertkul, and ‘Direction of Reform for Thailand,’ by Dr. Prawate Wasi.
After the video presentation I began to understand what Dr.Prawate thought about art and why he had invited P’ Nao, Naowarat Pongpaiboon, to steer the Assembly of the Artist’s Network. He saw the necessity of using artists as tools of communication to create currents and to drive this reform to spread to wider circles. Simply speaking, using them as instruments of propaganda, for example, like the leaders in every political system do. To say this is not to say it’s wrong, or that it means trying to manipulate artists, because after listening to him explain at length how there was a need for structural reform, such as the structure of the centers of governing power, law and justice, the economy and education for example. But he didn’t raise the issue of ‘the structure of art and culture,’ even though it had an important part in bringing Thailand to the crisis today of burning up the nation.
If all they wanted was propaganda, a mouthpiece for reform, they could hire some clever advertising firm. They might get faster results, wouldn’t waste their time, and would save their budget.
The center of the pyramid of art and culture is in the capital- just like the structure of power, government and the economy. Everything begins in Bangkok and functions like the notes on a ranad (traditional Thai xylophone) – what we call ‘the official edition of art and culture,’ how it is used to overtake and destroy provincial art and culture. Today, it’s like that. Furthermore, things have been improved and upgraded – what we call, ‘the state’s tourist edition of art and culture.’ It’s even worse, and makes things even worse than before.
Monopoly of the definition of ‘nation,’ of ‘Thai,’ - it’s still in the hands of the powers at the center. The little people, the minorities, have no rights, no voice. That’s just the way it is. It doesn’t change. As in the example of the ease of the rejection by the authorities of the request that the Yawi language be a second official government language in the Southern region. The very narrow reason given for the denial was that Thailand must only use Thai language for official business.
So it seemed to me that the topic of the meeting should be taken to a higher level, not sticking with a superficial and decorative one. And there should be some intelligent debate making wider use of our brains than seems to be happening. Because quite a lot of things are implicated – many important issues – in the constitution: control of power, the duty of the state to manage art and culture, the rights of communities, and the freedom of individuals as regard these things.
In the meeting a draft was presented from the first meeting to improve, make corrections and additions. But when I read the set of proposals for every branch of the arts, and for the visual arts, I found that the talk was about minor issues at the tail end of things [rather than addressing the basic problems]. For example, there was a proposal to set up people’s art and culture liaison centers in every region; to set up history centers for ‘knowledge of the land and the nation.’
If it’s like this, how is there going to be any reform? The constitution remains untouched, and the real root cause of the problems are located right there.
I agree with the point of view of the reform slogan of Acharn Sakesan Prasertkul, which calls for a reduction of the power of the state and an increase in the power of the people. This is a continuation of the attempt to disseminate power in the 1997 constitution.
In fact, when they were drafting the constitution in the year 2000, I and my friends in the Artist’s Network went into the parliament to make proposals about art and culture, to get some things put into that constitution. It was another occasion during which we tried to raise the structure of the problem to a national level. We called our proposals a ‘culture constitution.’ Unfortunately, we have not yet succeeded.
So, now I’d like to dust off those proposals and consider just a few articles which ought to be put into the constitution.
Section on Rights and Freedoms of Thai People
Article 1. Individuals have the duty to care for, protect, and pass on and develop and study the nation’s art, culture and local wisdom.
(Rationale: Because art and culture are the essential structure of society, just like the economic and political structure. Individuals thus have the duty to protect it, watch over it, and develop it to flourish and be beautiful.)
Article 2. Individuals are free to express their ideas - to speak, write and communicate meaning by means of art and culture.
Carrying out the preceding paragraph must be subject to the law and the limitations on rights and freedom that apply, except by the power of particular acts of law which control rights and freedoms as regards honor, reputation, rights in families, or the personal lives of other individuals.
(Rationale: In the past, government functionaries would cite the need to ‘preserve the peace and order or good morals of the people, or the need to protect or halt the mental decline or declining health of the people’ as specified in every constitution as a reason to limit the rights and freedom of expression of the creativity of the people – A vague citation without principal like this is simply a means of the state to control the opinions of the people. Hence, these words should be removed in order to lift the power of the state from the people. What will remain would be just the governing of other individuals who might receive the brunt.)
Article 3. People living together in provincial communities of longstanding have the right to designate their local heritage of art and culture which they should care for and which they have the right to protect, pass on, and make use of. This heritage may be made use of for public benefit and be managed as the law requires.
(Rationale: In the past, officers were the ones to establish what is ‘the art and culture heritage,’ and their judgments sometimes differ from what the general people say. This article helps people have more of a part in preservation.)
Article 4. Individuals have rights and freedom in setting up networks and art and culture funds to take care of their own local artistic and cultural heritage and innovations.
In order to implement the above, the state must provide supporting budget and legal apparatus in accordance with the specifications of these acts.
Article 5. The state has the duty to give equal support to promoting, supporting, and arranging budgets for managing the work of seeking, studying, researching, and disseminating in terms of various academic knowledge about art as well as the creation of works of art and culture in every branch, whether the work is done by an individual, a group of persons, a government agency and the local private sector, or on a national level. And a cultural and artistic exchange is a must at the international level.
Article 6. The state has the duty to promote and arrange for art and culture in society’s path by setting up basic structures as a foundation for art and culture in terms of resources, education, law; promoting support from the private sector and stipulating that the people have a part in setting art and culture policy.
(Rationale: Art and culture are the nation’s heritage; they must be protected and nourished, supported and put in their appropriate place, as scholars see it, so that people can study it, learn about, as the root and source of wisdom. For example, building contemporary art museums; grassroots museums which show the daily lives of the people. There should be provisions made to direct tax support to these purposes, stimulating the private sector to take part in supporting the creation of art or museums.)
Article 7. The state must acknowledge the variety of local cultures and art and culture groups and should promote their preservation and continuation. Their development, creativity, support and disseminate art and culture with fairness and equality at the grassroots and the national levels, and should keep in mind the value of art and culture as a way of life which includes economics, society and politics.
I’d like to leave these proposals with the Artist’s Assembly for Reform to consider – hope they will be of some use.