Monday, April 2, 2012

This Isn't the Thailand I Know - Manit Sriwanichpoom

Manit Sriwanichpoom. ‘This Isn’t the Thailand I know,’ in Siamrath Weekly News,
Yr.59, Vol.27, 23 – 29 March 2012.

            Out of sight for 3 years and now back again with his well-worn old vest, Prof. Tirayudth Boonmee gave a press conference on the results of a political and social analysis in this time of crisis, division and partisanship which we are undergoing.
It raised the hackles of the Taksin Shinawatr faction and the red shirt group.

            For example, his analysis of Taksin: …Personally speaking, the writer (Aj. Tirayudth) still believes that Taksin isn’t committed to building up true democratic grass roots.  This is evident in his public addresses to local people.  You don’t see any long term goals in constructive action – nothing but pleas for him to return to Thailand.  As a leader, Taksin can be characterized as chief of marketing more than as the head of a democracy.  Taksin hopes that the grassroots will be his customers, regularly and continually buying what he is selling, rather than having these masses be the stable functioning base of Thailand’s political and economic system.  Nor are they a political procession moving toward political ideas which point to an appropriate way out for Thai society.  It is as if our country is broken and divided, each side cursing the other, using violence against each other just in order to solve Taksin’s problems of secret shares and partnerships, unpaid taxes and insatiable desire for riches and power.

            Or, regarding the case of the red shirts: … The power of the grassroots red shirts has distinctive characteristics in voting and having rallies at intervals.  Even so, this is not a political procession of events [because] there is no goal of value change in the political structure at all.

            Actually, Aj. Tirayudth’s analysis hasn’t anything new in it.  Nor are there any suggestions at all about choices – ways out – for his listeners/ readers.  It is only due to his credit (his old credit), his having been one of the leaders who called for democracy on 14 October, 1973, and to his being an academic inside the walls of Thammasat University.  These are what give his words more weight and credibility than the pronouncements of other folk without a diploma. There is an art to inventing and stringing words together, creating political phrases to feed to the media so they can bandy them about in the news.  These things make the role of Aj. Tirayudth more conspicuous than anyone else.

There are some worthwhile dissenting opinions to Tirayudth’s analysis on Facebook from Assistant Prof. Dr. Pichai Rattanadilok na Phuket, the vice dean of the Social and Environmental Development Faculty at NIDA ( The National Institute of Development Administration).  According to Aj. Tirayudth, there are two centers of power in Thai politics, i.e. the conservative center and the center of grassroots power.

            Aj. Pichai sees differently. He says: …I think Aj. Tirayudth uses terms incorrectly in naming the second center of power. It is not exactly a reality in society and not believable.  If there is a center of power, I think it is not a grassroots center but rather it is more a power center of evil capital.  What we call the center of grassroots power is only an outer covering enclosing an evil capitalism.  It is a cover which creates legitimacy for evil capitalism. It overwhelms democracy and ‘opinions which differ’ from those which benefit evil capital.

            Red shirts are really at work, but they have been sealed within the mechanism of the evil capital political party; they are the engine of evil capital.  More than having ideas and conscious awareness of their own class, the activities and power of the red shirts depend on the resources and beliefs connected with evil capitalism.

            In any case, if one was to select a sentence or phrase or a word in the analysis of Aj. Tirayudth for use as a sign in an exhibition, it might be something like this:

            ‘Insatiable hunger for riches and power; grassroots populism; Taksin’s good deeds on our behalf are overflowing; crazy nation, crazy elite;  democracy, good people; democracy, you can eat it; democracy, you can see it ; and Taksin -  a leader in marketing more than a leader of democracy.’

            Concerning Aj. Tirayudth and selecting words from his articles, it’s because I’m thinking of the one-man show, ‘Crazily Good,’ by Sutee Kunavichayanont, artist and art teacher at Silpakorn University.  He has an exhibition at No.1 Gallery, Silom Galleria between 15 March – 21 April, 2012.

            Sutee has made a lot of signs with slogans and put them up around the large exhibition hall.  The venue becomes a sales room with signs or stickers for people to buy for display at home or on ones automobile. These let people generally know how we think, read or otherwise get …a philosophy of life.

            These words and phrases the artist has brought forth from the names of old Thai movies, the covers of magazines and novels such as Theptida Rongram [hotel angel]; Garm [sex]; Singh Sang Pa [the lion rules the jungle]; Suriya Tee Rak  [beloved sun]; Mon Kaki [kaki’s mantra]; Garm Sang Yok [committed to sex] Tawan Sang Lert [bloody sun]; or from foreign films such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; the Towering Inferno and Psycho.  He brings forward things said expressing various emotions and feelings, but in an annoying way, for example:  desire to stop desiring; an eye for an eye, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot;  playing is serious; quickly or slowly, it’s still painful; heartbroken but so stylish;  aggressive; professional mistress, etc.

            Some words are associated with questions posed about the value of art and artists, for example: the death of the artist is the birth of the value of his art; love art but hate artists; violence happens repeatedly in the name of art.

            A final set of words or sentences concerns the present political situation, for example: I can handle it; an honest mistake, dishonest with pure intention; groups of animals must be herded, groups of people must be led; don’t blame politicians – blame the people; the minority must accept it; love democracy but hate the voice of the majority; there is no democracy – only the dictatorship of a minority and the dictatorship of the majority; the victory of the people – the defeat of the nation; this is not the Thailand I know – this is not Thailand.

            Regarding these sets of signs and political phrases, if one walks through the exhibition hall reading them, one will find various unrelated words and sentences mixed together.  [The mixture] smothers and reduces the power of Sutee’s real opinion.  One might just think that the artist wants only to tweak our cheek playfully, to have fun with words as he does; that he is not really serious.  But then one takes these words and sentences out and puts them in order and looks at them, as I have done here.  Then one finds the artist’s deep emotion hidden there – profound depression which loses heart in the face of contemporary political situation in Thailand.  The words come out quite opposite to those I found in Aj. Tirayudth’s analysis, where Tirayudth still has a fighting spirit and has not surrendered.

            It is not surprising that we find Sutee making a huge wooden sculpture, Thailand On its Head.  It is three meters high, this form of the golden ax, a map of Thailand.  It hangs by a chain, head down, like a person dead by hanging, swinging, swaying.  This golden ax, if one side were yellow and the other red, no explanation would be necessary.  Both sides would be dead.  Because, red or yellow, we are part of the same body.

            There are two ironic acrylic paintings, 60 x 50 cm., entitled La Laew Thailand  [so long, Thailand].  One is a picture of a traditional Thai warrior cutting his own head off.  And in Klang Jai Nang [in a woman’s heart], the picture is a Thai woman in a traditional dress, stabbing her breast with a sword.  Perhaps we are no long able to look directly at the political crisis or endure seeing our friends and fellow citizens take ‘Thai-ness’, sell it out, and flee….sell it to foreigners until ‘ the Thai identity becomes a mutant.’ The extremes are expressed in eight other paintings entitled Nuad Maha Pralai  [the great destruction massage].  These paintings hang scattered among the signs around the room. 

            The ‘great destruction massage’ show strange gestures such as a Thai woman in traditional dress pulling both hands of a Thai boxer behind his back and using her two feet to push against his waist.  The act ends up lifting her up off the ground.  In another picture, a Thai woman dressed in a traditional sarong worn pulled up like trousers, her breast covered with a hastily tucked cloth, and wearing her hair in a ‘kratoom flower’ style, stands and massages a Thai boxer who lies face-up on the floor. She stands with her feet on the groin of the boxer.  In still another picture, another woman in traditional Thai dress massages a white male wearing the standard business suit.  The white lies face up. The woman holds his two hands and walks on his face.

            Suffice it to say, the paintings of ‘the great destruction massage’ appear harsh, violent, weird and funny. They express ‘aggressive feelings’ which involve what is called ‘Thai-ness’ – Thai boxing and Thai massage – or Thai spa – things now being sold round the world.  ‘Thai-ness’ nowadays is just a marketing tool to add value to goods and businesses.

            After seeing this exhibition, one cannot but ask if there is actually anything remaining at all that is authentically Thai. Or maybe there never was anything really ‘essentially Thai’ to begin with.  Everything has been set up simply to coincide with what is politically expedient in the particular time or situation.
            If that’s the way it is, then what is happening is appropriate: we will have a new definition for the words ‘Thai-ness,’  ‘Thai people’ and ‘Thailand’.  Like one of Sutee Kunavichayanont’s thought-provoking signs:                                                                       This is not the Thailand I know.

No comments: