Sunday, January 27, 2013

‘Hidden Violence,’ Manit Sriwanichpoom in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly News Magazine, Yr.60, Vol.15, 15 – 28 Dec. 2012

[Note: The names of exhibitions and some paintings are translated by the blogger and are not official.]

                How can we tell others of our own pain unless we are sure that those strangers will not judge us as [mere]‘victims’, the object of violence  or  that they will not condemn the ‘perpetrator’ of evil as daemonic or Satanic, especially when that violator is a family member or family friend, a loved one?

  How does one make the truth known, and to what extent, without making an act of violence seem like a soap opera or something laughable in the eyes of others?

                These are the questions I have for the people who made this art.  Such questions came up when I saw the exhibition of photographs by two new young women artists.  There are two shows – ‘Picture Perfect,’ at the Bangkok Gallery, 25 Nov. – 6 Jan. 2013; and ‘Atypical Love’ at the RMA Institute, 13 Dec. 2012 to 20 Jan. 2013.

                The exhibition, ‘Atypical Love,’ is the solo show by an Anglo-Thai woman (age 27), Katya Jarutavi, who graduated in news photography from the University of Westminster in England.  She presents  powerful pictures of violence using herself as the model.  She asks her friends to pinch her ear, to choke and slap her.  Because the pictures are very large and have a blurred and trembling character, they are emotional.  We cannot help but feel the pain of the model in the picture.  ‘It’s a Choke’  is a picture of the throat being grabbed; breathing becomes impossible.  In ‘Mind Spin,’ a face is violently slapped. 

                ‘Weekly Ritual’ is a picture of a regular, weekly ritual: the little girl is dragged, turning over and over, down the stairs.  Her face disappears in ‘Loss of Face’.   ‘ Bloodshed’ is a close-up picture of her gaping mouth, a blurred image of red, caked, crusted and clotted blood on the wires of her braces.

                Besides pictures of people, Katlya takes photos of things which are used to do harm to the body in ‘Objects of Harm’, for example, razors, scissors… apples.  A Barbie doll (the child’s friend and dream) is used to kill the spirit.  A bottle of antiseptic for wounds (‘Heal me Please’): a photo of a little stall selling antiseptics (‘I will take care of you’) suggests some black humor.   The recipient of violence may purchase such things for herself, or be handed them by the perpetrator with a smack on the head and a pat on the back, persuading her to accept her fate, to continue to endure this ‘ love with violence.’

                The artist omits to say if this story of violence and pain is her own, or whose in particular it is, but the exhibition is titled ‘Love of a Different Kind', instead of ‘Bloody Love’ or ‘Cruel Love.’  But no one is invited to judge the perpetrators of such violence without studying and understanding why some people express love and violence simultaneously.

                In the picture, ‘Strand,’ in particular, we see Katlya in a long blue skirt, her right hand holding a toy doggie by its ear .  She stands stiff and still, looking after the Benz which is leaving her behind without love or care as the darkness crawls in, slowly and clamorously.  (This picture is not in the show, but it is in the exhibition catalog.) The work suggests that violence doesn’t arise only from slums and shanties.  Violence also arises  among the elite, the wealthy, and the educated.  It’s just that we don’t have pictures critiquing the well-educated who also have a penchant for violence.  By contrast, advertisements against alcohol abuse typically show images of the drunken, wife-beating poor.

In this new world, the well-educated are smart enough to neatly conceal or hide their violence,  as we see in the exhibition, ‘Perfect,’ by two women artists:  Charintorn Rachurath (30) and Chamaiporn Watkien (23).

 Pichaya Supawanich, the staff curator of the BMA Gallery selected the works for this exhibition. Using photographs, she asks questions about contemporary values and preferences concerning ‘models of perfection.’

Chamaiporn Watkien is a graduate from the Department of Communication Arts, majoring in photography, from the Prachomklau Institute of Technology in Ladkrabang.  She presents the issues of the tastes and preferences of women of her generation (and of herself) regarding beauty. 

 Regarding ‘the body’, especially, it must be as thin as a stick * [literally, this expression in Thai is ‘like something to skewer a ghost’].   The body should resemble the mannequins upon which clothes are displayed in department stores.  No matter how the kinds of styles of clothes change, plastic department store dummies are always able to wear them and look good.  So, when women with such values are reduced to the shape and form [of a department store mannequin], they think they will  look equally beautiful.

Certainly, those man-made mannequins can have incredibly long arms and legs.  But the human body is made by nature (or by God).   How can a human body [reasonably be expected to] look like a plastic dummy? Then I heard of the many people who suffer from a diseased fixation on weight loss (Anorexia Nervosa). 
They eat and then force themselves to throw up.  Many people have given up their lives for their love of being ‘slim,’ for example,  film stars, singers, celebrities and young women from the general population till it has become necessary to campaign against the values behind such behaviors.  

 For example,  in Europe in 2007, there were shocking posters made by the famous Italian photographer, Olivier Toscanini, made from his photos of a nude French film actress, Isabelle Caro.  To see the skin covering the bones, the appearance like a corpse or a newly unwrapped mummy.  Her sunken eyes look pleadingly at the camera.

Instead of trying to outdo this ‘shock cinema’, which forces the viewer to gradually close their eyes or simply turn away and flee, Chamaiporn is smart; her pictures are bright, sweet and attractive. Visitors swarm to the gallery like bees.  They stare at the pictures of pretty girls, examining them, trying to figure out what’s wrong with them.

A young woman locks herself in her room (condo).   She is preoccupied by the thinness of her own body.  She eats only scraps of broccoli.  She walks back and forth between the weighing scale, the mirror and the clothes closet. This is the hidden violence that most people don’t think of.  Our preference for good, slim figures gets out of hand and it becomes normal that some people are destroyed by it.

If you turned time back about 10 years for the girl in Chamaiporn’s photo, she might have the same fate as the innocent child in the photo entitled [child of high society; child of a wealthy family], by Charintorn Rachurath, which hangs in the same exhibition.

Charintorn graduated from Sukhothai University.  She studied photography on her own.  Her picture brings together her own childhood memories such as horror films and stories she heard or witnessed. These inspire her to create the story of the child of a leading citizen, a wealthy Chinese who lived in a great mansion.  The little girl lived alone, without friends, except  her Barbie doll and the various kinds of animals in her imagination.

There is nothing new in photos of a little girl about 10 or 12 years old with her imaginary animal friends.  One is reminded of a fairy tale like Alice in Wonderland, but in the case of Charintorn, she uses red and other distinctive Chinese decorative elements to create the atmosphere and background of her own life when she was a child.

Not only that.  If you notice in some of her picture, especially [Bleeding Child of a Wealthy Elite], the picture shows three images of the same pretty little girl. Her school uniform is blue, is red, is blue.  Her face is expressionless.   She does not weep, doesn’t open her mouth, even as we see ‘blood’ running down her legs from under her dress.  It runs over her knees.  Her face is stony, as if she feels no pain at all.  There are two other works with little girls cradling Barbie dolls.  These little girls, too, have ‘blood’ running down their legs from their vaginas.  

The artist uses ‘blood’ instead of violence to conflict with the other, more peaceful and still, banal and cold elements in the picture.  She uses dimness and obscurity, letting the viewer imagine what has happened to these children.  Is she having her first period, which symbolizes her entry into womanhood, or has someone done violence to her?
‘Having a daughter is like having a toilet in the front yard.  You always have to be careful because you don’t know when it’s going to start stinking again.’  The prejudice of Chinese against having daughters is perhaps still embedded in their memory, brutalizing their feelings, destroying the human value of artists and the daughters of Chinese the world over.  As to this conclusion, it doesn’t matter how much time has passed.

I’m not sure that ‘photo therapy’ really exists or not, or how much it may be helping these three artists.   Certainly, however, though they have passed or are passing through ‘violence’ at present, they are very brave and ready to face with understanding the inner wounds they have received without 
judgment, without condemnation. (But forgiveness is another matter.)   The real question is, are the ‘perpetrators’ (all of us) ready to face  all the results of the violence we have committed, or not.  

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