Saturday, July 14, 2012

Manit Srimanichpoom, ‘Obscene’

Manit Srimanichpoom, ‘Obscene’, in the Silpa Wattanatham column,
Siamrath Weekly News, 15 – 21 June, 2012, Yr 59, Vol 39.             

    Two weeks ago, I received an official letter from the National Film and Video Committee with their decision to ban the Thai film which I produced, ‘Shakespeare Must Die.”  The director was Samanrath Kanchanawanich.  She translated and adapted the eternal play, ‘the Tragedy of Macbeth’, by William Shakespeare.   
    The letter from the committee contained [among other things] the following:
         .. Some scenes still have content which is inconsistent with peace,
         order, or good public morals.  Or it could have negative impact on
         the security, honor and dignity of the nation … 

          Imagine how you would feel, experiencing an accusation like this.  The contemporary world is rife with news of politicians, civil officers, and businessmen joining together in various sorts of projects to shamelessly cheat the public, looting the nation’s coffers with not the least fear of the law or heaven.  Hence, this accusation [against the film] seems like nonsense, ridiculous and hilarious.

    Honorable committee members, did you read for anyone else what you wrote to us?  When you read it yourselves, how did you all feel?  Weren’t you ashamed to accuse someone like this?

    Whatever.  I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome you to my latest exhibition of photographs, ‘Obscene’, at the H Gallery, Sathorn 12, between 14 June – 30 July, 2012.  When you see it, you may want to call a policeman to have me arrested on charges of showing indecent, pornographic images. You are welcome! The Ministry of Culture is already famous for doing just that.

    ‘Obscene’ has two parts: the first is black and white pictures entitled ‘Holy Machismo.’ These were taken last year.  By chance, it was the year I hit 50. I was feeling shaken with regard to being my own man.  I felt I had advanced in age.  I felt worried, downhearted and balding, anxious about diminishing testosterone.  It’s natural. In the past, I never thought about these things.  All I did was work, focusing outside myself all the time.  This is another time: I have to turn back and look within myself.  I usually take notice of how I’m feeling every morning anyway, but I hadn’t about this.

    I just hit No.5(0) and my appetite for this and that ebbed so much! It isn’t like it used to be when I was young, 20 or 30 – with so much strength.  I was such an activist in those days, going without eating or sleeping.  I shot pictures under the blasting sun or out in the rain. I carried loads of equipment and never felt tired.  Looking back over the things I did, I still can’t believe I was able to accomplish so much.  I couldn’t do it now.  Now it’s one thing at a time.  One problem at a time, one idea at a time.  I am  more focused, more aware of and more parsimonious with the energy I spend: I spend it with more care.

    So I’m surprised that the elders who are creating problems for the country are still filled with lust, still hungry for immoderate wealth, world class riches. They continue to crave power, to yearn for flattery and adulation, wanting to surround themselves with sycophants.

    I’m not sure if lust like this has its roots in the power of yang , male force, or not.  It has been said that artists create their work’ through their libido’.  I miss that sense of my own youthful virility.  I would like to create works in an abstract vein – paintings or prints.  I thought of phallic charms, not thinking of anything sacred or holy.  It would be a kind of amulet, something like that.  But I was interested in the form, the shape of it.  Things that people think, create, which they carve out to use as substitutes for the actual male sex organ.

    The works of photography that I did – both the clear and the blurred ones- were taken at close range, using bright lighting and also darkness, deep black and gloomy.  Like an albino snake that rises to lunge forward and strike – freedom; or  Darth Vader from the Star Wars films – awesome. Some pictures look like someone in a black veil which contrasts with the whiteness of the setting.  The eyes reflect emotion, mysterious feelings. My own shaky, uneasy self.

    The second set of pictures in the exhibition is entitled ‘Obscene.’  The pictures are of nudes, nude women.  The arrangement of elements in the photos was inspired by the paintings of Caravaggio (1573 – 1610) from the end of the 16th century in Italy, by Renaissance paintings from France, and works of surrealism by Rene Magritte (1898 – 1967).  Red is the dominant color in these pictures.

    About nudes, this is a very, very challenging subject.  It’s not just getting a model to stand naked and allow you to take photos of her.  What can [the artist] do to make these pictures go beyond the beauty (or lack of it) of the physical body?  Artists and photographers have created beautiful images [of nudes]so many times that they don’t know how to do anything different with this subject, anything unlike what has been done before.  You can’t tell someone how to do it. It depends on the situation and context as you work.

    Chance has a lot to do with it.  Good or bad luck.  We have Ms. Yingluck Shinawatr as our first woman prime minister in the political history of Thailand.  What wealth of [quality, credit and ability] brought her to the position of prime minister besides the surname of Shinawatr?  Another part of what came with her from birth and which other ex-prime ministers don’t have is her sex, being a woman – and that’s it. And this is one point which has brought out all the feminists who have criticized her periodically because Yingluck likes to use her gender as a way of turning aside criticism about her inefficiency from the opposition.

    In any case, based on supporting voices and substantial support from the red shirt constituency, Ms. Yingluck and her band of leaders in Puer Thai and the nor-por-shor all seem completely full of themselves, blithely ignoring the voice of the opposition. They are not concerned with the problems of the people generally,  though they have held the government for a year now.  However, nothing concrete is occurring regarding solutions to the real problems of the poor or the grassroots.  The focus is only on solving the problems of big brother Taksin.  The prime minister herself floats, dressing up nicely, and going on tours abroad, giving rise to criticism the we have a leader who is simply ‘window dressing, a pretty chick’.

    The people surrounded by ranks of sycophants and red shirts are inebriated with power. The foreign press is receiving money and is receptive to lobbies.  They all work to create an image which says to everyone that [Yingluck] is a woman fighting for the Thai people, an iron lady, an outstanding leader, a smart CEO, a model mother. I took all this and mocked and critiqued it in my photos, ‘Political Nudes’.

    ‘Narcissist’ is a nude young woman who is engrossed in staring into a mirror, looking at the reflection of her beautiful face.

    The ‘Goddess of Democracy’ guards with one hand the red constitution which rests on a golden chalice atop her head. In her other hand is an a.k.a. automatic rifle, a symbol of violence. The picture can be seen as someone who uses violence to obtain their own constitution, or who is ready to protect that constitution with violence.

    The ‘Goddess of Justice’ has a balance scale with only one arm, not two arms like a normal balance [which weighs by comparison]. The image says that I (กู) am Justice.

    The ‘Goddess of Hammer, Sickle and Chanel’ presents the class of leaders in the new era: a mixture of the Old Left and new consumerism.

    Though created from different inspirations, when I brought these works together to show, they fit well together.  One can’t help but think that machismo and  the obscene both arise out of lust and avariciousness and are driven by yang, by male power.

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