Paisarn Tirapongwit, ‘The Still Silent Movement of Those Who Grant Prizes for Art in Thailand,’ in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly news magazine.
Yr. 58, Vol. 49. 26 Aug – 1 Sept. 2011
These days we often become aware of news about activities arranged to distribute prizes in various professions. Prizes are handed out in response to the outstanding ability and potential of individuals in the field. Some prizes celebrate and honor or encourage people to work and to devote themselves, their ideas, and their creative abilities and works in their chosen field, and to develop and move ahead so that they will grow, flourish and continue.
The result of creative development of individuals who receive these awards, whether great or small, may by models, examples or inspiration in one way or another to people in the field. They may encourage people to improve and develop their work to be more efficient, more complete, more self assured. People may become more competitive in many directions, with many forms to follow.
But because the society in which we live today mostly or almost completely moves or is driven by economic mechanisms of consumerism and base materialism in this era of globalization. It is an era when big capital controls everything completely in only one direction.
Nowadays we find that the society we live in records activities in which prizes are awarded. In some circles, careers or fields there are many competitions and many prizes handed out. Sometimes there is a feeling of doubt about these prizes, many of them, that they may be excessive. And the quantity or number of prizes – of which there are so many – that they do seem to be excessive. And they seem to lack dignity. They seem to be unimportant and [therefore do not] invite much admiration when they are received.
At the same time, prizes in some circles of some fields provoke feelings of incredulity. They are ‘cover’ awards without any particular meaning. They don’t inspire any profound satisfaction in receiving them. And the agency or division which originates and distributes the award is not recognized very widely for the most part – revolving and moving in professional circles, each in their own branch or circle.
Many times one finds that there is something to be suspicious about, to protest, to oppose, and a refusal to accept the results of the deliberations. The evaluations which hand out prizes in some circles, some professional branches, sometimes become scandalous news. The news is sensational, notorious, especially in working circles in which the public takes an interest or where business and commerce are also involved.
But in fact, the handing out of all these varied awards, whatever the characteristics of the platform, in whatever field of career or profession, mostly they cannot avoid confronting censure and doubt in almost every case about transparency or the suitability of the winners of the awards for the prizes they have been given.
It is not clear to what extent the organizers handing out awards tried to find ways of doing so in just and transparent fashion, and if they acted accordingly. Because there is no one and no method which answers 100% of the requirements of everyone in society, or of creating direct, perfect and complete satisfaction, according to what people think and expect.
As for contemporary art circles, or Thai modern art circles, in recent years, there has been news of movement in activities involving the presentation of awards of many kinds and many characteristics. They appear and get some exposure from time to time. But mostly, the awards which have appeared and have been handed out in our local circles have been of little interest in the eyes of the public. Wider circles of interest have not been captured.
This is no different from the state of things or the atmosphere in art exhibitions organized in the visual arts for the most part. If you follow the exhibition spaces for the works of art of our country, they are most characterized by sparseness, by the absence of people. They are deserted. There are few Thai people nowadays, a scattered handful, a pitiful few who are interested enough to spare some time to go to these rooms and take a look, to have a brief taste and appreciate the works of art which have been set up in exhibitions in galleries or ‘art areas’ – all those various spaces set aside for art.
For quite a long time, and up to today, Thailand’s art circles have been influenced by many diverse ideas in many forms. There have been many schools and many movements from the West to study and build upon, to grow and branch out from, adapting, taking short cuts, imitating, following, and eventually developing enough to follow ones own path, appropriate to ones own place and time. We [the modern Thai artworld] are more than 80 years old now. But…the status of contemporary art in a Western idiom is still strange, separate, alien, involving things which most people generally – half the country – have never known or experienced, and have no sense of familiarity or closeness with at all.
Not just ordinary common folk generally in Thai society who lack interest in seeing or collecting art, or in studying and understanding works of art. Not even government agencies in our country know or take an interest in art. And including all those ‘tigers-lions-bulls-rhinos’ who put on the spirit of ‘professional politicians,’ who snatch from each other and compete against each other, shifting places to get into parliament. They all sit in the chairs of cabinet ministers. They are groups of individuals who, in addition to having no taste in art and no useful vision for the Thai artworld กะผีกริ้น . So, the life and breath of our country’s art does not appear to receive the support of policy on the part of the government.
So there is nothing puzzling, perplexing or strange here. There is denial in response from the people who walk in the street generally in Bangkok and other places in other regions of the country. When we throw a question: Do they know anything about prizes for art in the visual arts – the ‘Silpathorn’? It has been supported and distributed by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture in the Ministry of Culture. People are extremely puzzled with prizes for art which are handed out at regular intervals of about three years – like the Manat Siensingh Daeng prize.
The Manat Siensingh prize – which is called ‘Daeng’ (red) – is a prize for visual arts from the Pridi Panomyong Institute. It was created as a memorial to Manat Siensingh, whose nickname was ‘Daeng’. The prize, intended for works in the field of visual arts, was established in 2001. There are standards for the honor given for visual artists, for example, those who create works consonant with peace, democracy and justice – or simply speaking – the life of the artist is considered. The artist’s work must reflect such problems in order to inform the public over a period of decades. The mode of presentation is not limited.
All of the aforesaid is information from the document handed out at the second award ceremony for the Manat Siensingh Daeng prizes in 2006. There is a gap in time till August 2011 when the awarding of the 3rd Manat Siensingh Daeng prize was announced very quietly. It came to the attention of particularly interested persons; it wasn’t news widely announced in society for the enjoyment of all. There didn’t seem to be any media taking much interest in reporting the event to the general public. The presentation of the 3rd Manat Siensingh Daeng awards, therefore, passed quite quietly without any fanfare.
As for the ‘Silpathorn’ prizes, which should be announced and handed out in a ceremony sponsored by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture sometime this month or next month. There were announcements to many members of the press and many branches of the media. However, visual arts activities and events are of little interest to most of the general public. The common people have never shown much interest in the realm of this kind of visual art because such works are still very exotic in the lives of the vast majority of people, and that hasn’t changed at all for more than 70 or 80 years.
It will be a very long time, many decades, before all these works of contemporary or modern art can become a part of the lives of the great majority of Thai people. Thailand is a country with a long history, passed down over thousands of years, but without museums to preserve, display, and exhibit works of art by individuals of many generations in this country for the enjoyment and even sale to future generations and people from other countries who come to visit or make a holiday.
As for the hosts of buildings which shamelessly refer to themselves as ‘museums’ with ‘national’ tagged on, as well, including the ‘National Gallery of Art,’ with such perfection, which among them is anything more than a warehouse for the nation’s old stuff?
Properly functioning ‘art museums’ and ‘art galleries’ for a city– impressive, spacious and grand – may rightly be tagged ‘national’. But the Thai bureaucracy serving whatever [special interest] group or party, which ever prime minister’s team, they all lack the wit and the ability to support or successfully build up a single place. The most they can do is to create a vague picture of a castle in the sky. Before [the real thing] can be revealed, [the supposed sponsors] disappear, leaving their office without accomplishing anything of substance, anything we could be proud. Then there is nothing but blaming and cheating, sluggish and gaping. Then there is no trace of anything, no evidence: even though the evil occurs, unfurled for all to see. No one can find the perpetrators – not a one. Ridiculous!
Before closing off here, I would like to let readers know the announced names of the recipients of the 3rd Manat Siensingh Daeng awards for 2011. There are two winners: Surapol Banyawachira and Kanya Charoensupakul. Both are artists who have endured for a very long time, making works of art. If readers are interested, you can get more information about the Manat Siensingh Daeng awards at the Pridi Panomyong Institute in Soi Thonglor (Sukhumwit 55).
As for the Silpathorn awards from the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, Ministry of Culture this year. I still haven’t heard the news about how this is turning out. So I don’t know what kind of art or who has received the award. Also, there is some talk about making some changes in the awards ceremony for the Silpathorn. But I don’t know what will be changed. I don’t even know if the award is still going to be handed out at all. Did they cancel? That would be unfortunate and very disappointing. We will have to keep an ear out for the latest news from the Ministry of Culture. What is the direction being taken by the Silpathorn Prize? What will it be tomorrow?