Saturday, March 1, 2014

Art Critic as Political Activist (Blogger comment) / Manit "Coming Together to Reform..."

I'm translating these in the role of a committed translator of the works of one of Thailand's best art critics, not as enthusiastic supporter of the man's political views.

Manit Sriwanichpoom, “ Coming Together to Reform Art and Culture,” Yr. 61, Vol. 23, 21 – 27 Feb.2014

 No one knows how long the fight between the mass of the people led by Kamnun Suthep Teauksuban and the acting government led by Ms.Yingluck Shinawatr is going to last.   Some say it will go on till the traditional Thai New Year holiday of Songkran in April or even longer.  Extracting the poison of the ‘Taksin regime’ from Thai society will require substantial, even massive, social and economic investment which still cannot be estimated.

The point is not whether it will be ‘worth it,’ or ‘not worth it’, because these are questions of survival, the life or death of Thai society.

Look at the first fifty names on the Puer Thai party list, the people who stood for election in the 2 Feb. poll. We can see clearly that Taksin Shinawatr and the Puer Thai Party have no awareness or sense of responsibility for what they have done continually for two years while leading the government.  They don’t care what the common people who oppose them will think, because they believe  that the red shirts will under no circumstances abandon them. Certainly, they wouldn’t turn to join the opposition. Calculating carefully, the votes in their favor might be reduced somewhat, but when counting the favorable votes and the middle sized and small parties, Puer Thai will be returned to the seat of power for sure.  They will return to carry forward their work of corruption and the destruction of balanced democracy.

 To prevent Thai society from crumbling away, there are calls for reform from every part.  This is not only Uncle Kamnan Suthep’s ‘Committee For Complete Democracy’.  There is also the group of Acharn Tirayudt Boonmee.  They have joined under the title, ‘Network of Persons Serving Peaceful Reform in Thailand by Thai People.’  The group of the under-secretary of the Ministry of Justice, Kittipong Kittiyarak,  is known as ‘The Network to Carry Forward Reform’.  The group of Tanabodi Waroonsri is ‘The Siam Reform Group.’  Various small groups are pushing for their particular cause, something they care aboutm or are troubled with as a result of the way things are being managed in the country.  They have wanted to take part in the problem-solving process.

These are the ‘good’ things that have come about during the opposition to the evils of the Taksin regime. Every Thai person has to look at himself or herself in light of what has happened, the things which have led us to this terrible crisis in our country.  It is of a magnitude that we have never seen before. And what will we do to avoid this and emerge from this crisis peacefully?
If one summarizes and brings together the myriad demands of these reform groups, there are points of convergence: calls for decentralization of power, dissemination of budget, reduction of inequalities, transparency, monitoring, greater balance, building more participation by the people, and stamping out corruption.

It is noticeable that among all the reform groups, no one is the least interested in the issue of art and culture.  They only emphasize the correction of political problems.  It’s the right thing to do, of course, because these problems are really the most pressing and serious.
Even so, my artist friends and I asked the BACC at Patumwan to host the first activities aimed at coming together to reform art and culture. There were about 20 artists and people working in the field of art and culture.  They came to reflect on how problems may be solved, much as they have dreamed of seeing such things happen.  This little ‘coming together’ expresses the hope that from first very small group there will be a wider expansion to the public generally.

The matter of reforming art and culture is not anything new.  Soon after the events ended in 2010, when the city and the nation were burning, the government of Aphisit Vechachiwa appointed Mr.Anand Banyarachun as the chairman of a committee to reform Thailand.  Dr. Prawet Wasi was chairman of the Reform Assembly Committee.  In this latter group was P’Nao Navarat Pongpaiboon, a committee member for art and culture.   He organized a meeting to hear about problems in art and culture around the country.  From these meetings came many suggestions to the Aphisit government for reforms in the area of art and culture.  

And from there, a document came out, ‘Reform Assembly 1, 8th Dimension.’  It had four pages, typed, and was dated from 26 March, 2011,  (this document can be downloaded from the Internet) under the heading ‘Art and Culture, Creativity, and Healing Society’.
I would like to present some examples of the suggestions put forth in this document.

1/ Use the power of art and culture for the healing and development of society.
1.1/ The Assembly for Reform Committee proposed that the Cabinet specify that all ministries and agencies of the state set plans and implement them, using every branch of art and culture (both contemporary and folk) - literary arts, visual arts, and performing arts – to bring work in these areas into more important roles and responsibilities in order to promote and strengthen, to sooth and heal, the hearts of people in society.  Make the Ministry of Culture not distort the truth in the media it produces for children and teenagers to understand art, culture and history.

I understand that the early references to ‘healing’ had to be put in because the reforms were proposed after the violent events in which the city had burned, and protestors, soldiers and members of the press were killed.  Altogether there were 90 people dead and many more injured. So art and culture was presented as a tool for healing and for unifying the people.  Even so, I don’t understand why, at the end of this suggestion, the Ministry of Culture is charged with ‘controlling and caring for art and culture coming out of the media.’  It is just because of fear that youth will get distorted ideas about art, culture and history.  This is a very scary issue, because the Thai state already has a monopoly on judging what is correct in art, culture and history.  To present such a point is to embrace an authoritarian state.

The question follows as to who is going to make the decisions about what is a ‘distortion of the truth’?

2/ Management of Art and Culture must go forward freely, with power and distinctiveness.
The Committee of the Reform Assembly shall support the establishment of a People’s Assembly of Art and Culture, or some independent mechanism which artists and stakeholders have a part in managing and which is funded by the state, by local government and by other agencies.
Government agencies should direct and care for art and culture.  For example, the Ministry of Culture works together with local government to vigorously and sincerely support works of art and culture from the public.
As to the point about establishing a People’s Assembly of Art and Culture, it’s a good thing.  But having funding coming from the Ministry of Culture or from local government is problematic in the long run because the ministry or the local government will be able to choose to promote only those projects useful for gaining popularity among their own supporters.  Projects which do not cater to such groups would be at a disadvantage when it came to receiving funding.  The people’s assembly would easily become a tool of politicians, little more than an ‘event organizer.’  The state budget would tend to find its way into the pockets of politicians via activities supporting art and culture.

To conclude, the 2011 resolution of the Reform Assembly’s art and culture arm doesn’t respond to the primary call for reform this time, because it still works within a framework that gives the state full power to manage art and culture.  In such a framework, artists and the public are only promoters with activities.  This has no true character of decentralization of state power.  Artists and those in the cultural sector are left to go begging for funding from the state and from local government – which is what happens nowadays.

In any case, there are some other more useful proposals mixed in here which were taken under consideration by the ‘Coming Together to Reform Art and Culture’.  For example, areas of art criticism and critical cultural analysis should open up in every branch of mass media and in neighborhood forums. A development plan for creators and for audiences should be established and implemented. A national assembly of movie-goers should be created, and Thai art and culture should be promoted and disseminated to the world stage.

As to the answer to how reform of art and culture will turn out and what there will be, I will address that in my next column.

Note: The pictures in this article, taken 15 January, 2014,  are from the ‘Art Lane’ activity by artists who support having reforms take place before the election.  


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