Bridging divisions

Bridging divisions

Buddhist and Muslim artists team up for an exhibition to share hope amid difficulties in the Deep South

Bridging divisions
Above Muhammadsuriyee Masu and Pain In Pattani. (Photos: Somchai Poomlard)

Korakot Sangnoy is a Buddhist artist who lives in Pattani, one of the three southernmost border provinces. However, since the majority of the community there is of the Islamic faith, he has embraced diversity and seeks to understand differences.

Muhammadsuriyee Masu and Pain In Pattani.

Meanwhile, Muhammadsuriyee Masu, a Muslim artist, expresses his discomfort with life due to the imposition of the emergency decree by using stencil dove artwork. The emergency decree grants military officers full authority to search and arrest suspects. Korakot and Muhammadsuriyee teamed up for the exhibition "Hopefully", to share hope at VS 24 Gallery.

"Korakot uses sunflowers as a symbol of hope while I express my exclusion and misery through stencil doves. The exhibition displays that people have two sides -- living in misery and having hope for a better future," explained Muhammadsuriyee.

"We wanted to show there are cages in our area. Everyone is equal as a human being. We all encounter difficulties and as artists, we reflect on those difficulties," said Korakot.

Muhammadsuriyee became interested in the insurgency in the Deep South after the 2004 Tak Bai incident when 85 Muslim protesters died. After that, an emergency decree was enforced in the southernmost border provinces which changed his life.

"I do not feel safe. When I go out to do errands and pass checkpoints, authorities ask to see my ID card and question me a lot. It is always like that even though I pass the same checkpoint several times a day. It is uncomfortable," he said.

Korakot Sangnoy and Violet Sunflower 1-100.

Muhammadsuriyee uses images of doves to represent local people in Pattani because doves migrated from Java in Indonesia. This is similar to how people in the Pattani kingdom migrated from abroad. At "Hopefully", he created one installation and one painting under the same title, Pain In Pattani. The installation displays 33 stencil doves made from cow skin hanging from red strings.

"I drew inspiration from shadow plays, so I used cow skin to create 33 stencil doves. Like shadow plays, this installation tells stories of people in the South. The 33 doves represent my age. I tied the doves upside down to symbolise local people who are constrained by the emergency decree. The 19 paintings, made from ink and crayon, refer to the Tak Bai incident which took place 19 years ago," explained Muhammadsuriyee.

Korakot became interested in the insurgency in the Deep South when he studied at the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts, Prince of Songkla University. As a Buddhist, he has not encountered the difficulties his Muslim friends have, but he feels that is unfair.

"When authorities see my Thai name on the ID card, they do not question me much, but my friends with Muslim names have been searched thoroughly. It is not fair. As a minority in the area, I have difficulty understanding their language, but I do not have problems with Muslim people. Despite the language barrier, we still can share our ideas and experiences," said Korakot.

For "Hopefully", Korakot's art pieces are divided into two categories -- violet sunflower paintings and acrylic and gold leaf portraits.

My Father, My Mother by Korakot Sangnoy features acrylic paint and gold leaf. (Photo: Korakot Sangnoy)

"Sunflowers symbolise hope. Since violet is the opposite of yellow, I created violet sunflowers to symbolise that despite our differences, we can accept each other. Although non-segregation does not exist in the real world, it does in my artwork," said Korakot.

His work My Father, My Mother features acrylic paint and gold leaf. Korakot explained that gold leaf is used in art related to Buddhism. It signifies worship and is only used with sacred objects.

"Muslims hold great respect for Allah, so they are prohibited from worshipping other gods and deities. On the other hand, Buddhists can pay respect to multiple deities and sacred objects. I believe that I should pay respect to my parents rather than sacred items because they gave me life. Therefore, I added gold leaf to their portraits and put them in golden frames. I took photos of my parents on their workdays to show that everyone deserves respect regardless of their occupation," he said.

Pain In Pattani displays 33 stencil doves installations hanging from red strings and 19 ink and crayon paintings.

As artists, Muhammadsuriyee and Korakot agreed that it is their job to express truth through art. Before creating "Hopefully", Muhammadsuriyee and Korakot created exhibitions related to interrogational torture as their friends and acquaintances experienced such torment firsthand.

"Many people were framed even though they did not do anything wrong. These people had to run away from their homes. Some friends who were tortured became paranoid. When they saw military officers, they would shake uncontrollably. Since there are many victims, the Duayjai Group has tried to help them recover," said Muhammadsuriyee.

Korakot added: "A victim visited Patani Artspace when we had an art performance regarding interrogational torture. The performance reminded him of the torture. It triggered his bad memories, making him weep. Thus, I wanted to reflect on what people in Pattani experienced. There was a time when military officers came to Patani Artspace. An officer told me there was no more interrogational torture. He told me to paint something else instead. However, I want to reflect on the truth and when military officers arrive, I hope they accept that there are issues regarding interrogational torture. Interrogational torture did indeed occur. We should not overlook this."

Korakot Sangnoy and and My father, My Mother 2.

Korakot hopes the exhibition will encourage visitors to question issues in the three southernmost border provinces, while Muhammadsuriyee wants visitors to become more interested in issues related to the region.

"On opening day, I had the opportunity to talk with visitors who became engaged with issues that we encountered and wanted to learn more about them. Some visitors had read news about the border provinces, but talking with Korakot and I helped them understand the issues better. I also hope the new government will implement policies that can solve these issues," said Muhammadsuriyee.

"Hopefully" runs at VS 24 Gallery, Naradhiwas 24, until Aug 27. Admission is free. For more information, visit and

Bloom Violet Sunflower by Korakot Sangnoy. (Photo: Korakot Sangnoy)

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