Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Paisan Tirapongwit, Notes on Thai Society in the Notes 05/2553 Photo Exhibition

Paisan Tirapongwit, ‘Notes on Thai Society in the Notes 05/2553 Photo Exhibition,’ in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly News magazine, Yr. 58, Vol. 12, 10 – 16 Dec. 2010.

The photo exhibition by five artist-photographers, ‘Notes on 05/2553’ [the Thai title], or ‘Rupture’, is open to interested members of the public who might like to drop by the Bangkok Municipal Art and Culture Gallery, 9th floor, from today until Sunday, 9 January, 2011.

In Notes 05/2553, the organizers have built on a theme presenting photographic works recording memories of these five artist-photographers. The pictures show their experiences, ideas and feelings about the violent conflict which occurred not long ago in the heart of Bangkok, the capital city, during May, 2010.

In February 1991, the ror-sor-chor (‘national peacekeepers’) called out troops from many sectors in a coup which overpowered the government of Prime Minister General Chatchai Choonhavan. By May of the following year, a so-called ‘cell-phone mob had assembled aiming to drive away a dictatorial new government which was awkwardly associated with the ror-sor-chor. The widening tensions ended in fighting which bloodied historic Rachadamnoen avenue. The injuries and deaths of many people in that 1992 event are remembered as ‘Black May.’

These events quieted, settled and eventually wound down, and their recollection was set aside.
But the significant loss of lives and property, the wounds, pain and suffering, were not erased from the broken and slashed memories of those who witnessed them.

Perhaps the stories faded and weakened in people’s feelings, but certainly they were not gone from thoughts and memories. Comforting themselves and keeping their hopes up, people held on to the hope that Thai society would no more in future have such revolutions and revolts. Never again would soldiers from this or that military graduating class use their martial ministrations to usurp power, tear up the constitution, overthrow it, take the country’s future, and drag it backward.

But actions and deeds throughout the era of Taksin Shinawatr, Thailand’s 23rd Prime Minister, along with many other factors, led to a military coup in 2006. It was a revolt which turned the face of Thai history and politics, making it shake and tremble once more.

Strangely enough, however, this coup by the kor-mor-shor (Council for National Security) met with virtually no resistance from Bangkokians – quite the opposite. A great many people in the capital were pleased, even delighted, as evidenced by pictures of Bangkokians presenting flowers to the tank crews who enforced the military coup of 2006.

The people of Bangkok were in fact happy and pleased that the soldiers had come out to help rout the ‘government of the capitalist dictator.’ The coup was led by a former prime minister, a ‘great puppet master,’ who made possible the country’s escape from the cycle of political and governmental powerlessness which was transforming Thailand into a ‘Public Company Ltd.’

As a result of the military coup of 2006, the political mechanisms of Thailand were turned backward. There was a loss of the continuity of freedom and stability, and all because of the overweening ambition and thirst for power of a few individuals. Mechanisms of conflict set in motion in Thai society, creating divisions among the masses and their communities and spreading like a poisonous disease.

The state of disorder and unrest reflects the divisive conflict of ideas as well as the insatiable lust and craving for power of many in our country. Such disarray gives rise to numerous costly and diverse impacts throughout society, both materially (in terms of property and money) and in the loss of normality in human life, especially when people take sides and are divided, choosing opposing colors. Divisions and conflict become biting and devouring. The atmosphere of ill will and strife make for situations that are confusing and unpredictable. Where will the story end, and what will the state of things finally be?

Regarding the photographs, black and white or in color, or moving pictures on the monitor screen, all are brought together in the Notes on 05/2553 exhibition on the 9th floor of the BMA Art and Culture Gallery. The show includes the creative works of Oliver Pin-Fat (English), Wolfgang Bellwinkel (German), Agnes Dherbeys (French), Piyatat Hemmatat (Thai) and Manit Sriwanichpoom (Thai).

The photos are like records of memories and feelings concerning the violent events which occurred, about the violence resulting from division and conflict of political ideas about government – ideas which were planted, formed, incited, disseminated and mobilized, step-by-step and systematically.

Most of the works selected for show in Notes on 05/2553 record violent events and their aftermath.
These events erupted out of a divisive conflict which had been fanned up and which burned and smoldered in society for months and years. Conflicting ideas pushed people to choose sides and take a stand, whether mindfully or not –including those who were opposing the power of the state and the government (at that time).

The photos selected could hardly cover every angle of these events, their causes and results, because what happened was very problematic, widespread and complex. Many details crowd and overlap as various factors come under consideration. The number of photos selected to show in Notes on 05/ 2553 cannot possibly reflect and cover with detailed certainty the complete story of all that took place.
Nonetheless, the organizers tried to choose the works best able to show many angles to reflect and express to viewers that really, the violent events that occurred did not simply concern and involve just two or three opposing groups. There were at least four or five elements involved, perhaps more, which took part in this crippling shakeup.

A great many of the works are simply records of the event in which the photographers just tried to capture the phenomenon as directly as possible. Some works have a subtly critical point of view which audiences may feel. Other works present the varied points of view of the experiences of people on different sides in the events. Unfortunately, some works were banned altogether, censored by the administrators of the BMA Art and Culture Gallery who would not allow them to be exhibited. As a result, some real information about certain aspects of these events was simply pulled out of the picture. Unfortunately, therefore, they are lost from the record of the Notes on 05/2553, or Rupture show.

The ideas and feelings of individual photographers about the conflict, the violence, disaster and loss, which had considerable and widespread impact on Thai society, generally, can be felt and seen a little bit in the critical angles of these images. However, most of the photos on show have the character of a record. They are narratives of the events showing some of the losses and the remains. But this is only a very little fragment of the whole story.

Of course, these photographs in the exhibition cannot enable us see really clearly the back story.
They cannot show the basic causes which led to this outbreak of increasingly intensifying violence, or who was pulling strings behind the scenes.

Whether much or little, the dozens of photos in the show let the viewers know and see to some extent what the losses were and how they happened in our society – which used to be peaceful,
a country in which people cared for each other in harmony. How did it come about that everything changed? Who were the innocent? How many were hit directly or indirectly this time by the conflict and division among Thai people?

The divisive conflicts between different parties, the senseless partisanship, turned the capital into a ghost town. Silenced was the clamoring, boisterous noise of streets bustling with traffic. The streets were emptied of cars, moving or parked. The losses were disastrous, damnable and very disheartening to the lives of people who had no inkling of the causes. [What had they done to deserve this?] They had been dragged into the fray unwillingly and had to carry part of the losses with no opportunity to refuse.

As for the photos banned by the administrators of the BMA (the real owners of the site), the pictures were forbidden to be put on exhibition. However, interested persons can still seek the censored information and details in the catalog which was printed up to accompany this photographic exhibition.

If the reader can spare some time from a busy daily life, the Notes on 05/2553 show is open daily, except Mondays, to the public, free of charge. The exhibition is on the 9th floor of the BMA Art and Culture Gallery.

Till now, it can be said that this is the first show presenting content about those violent events resulting from political machinations in our democratic nation in 2010, a time when Thai society was battered and wounded with division and conflict which bit more deeply and violently into society than ever before in the past. The conflict and division resulted from the greed of just one person – that’s crystal clear.

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