By lens, stage and paint, truth
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By lens, stage and paint, truth

Today is Constitution Day. The supreme law of the country has always been a source of hope as well as uncertainty. Life speaks with four artists whose work is inspired by Thailand's struggle for democracy

By lens, stage and paint, truth

In 2009, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit made I'm Fine Sabai Dee Ka, a three-minute satirical film/performance art piece in which she locks herself in a cage placed in front of the Democracy Monument. Passers-by (both actors and unsuspecting pedestrians) take photographs and stop to ask her what happened. She smiles and repeats the same answer: "I'm fine in here." Tanwarin, who once served as the president of the Thai Film Director Association, is a prolific filmmaker who has made independent and mainstream films. In 2010, her low-budget production, Insects In The Backyard, made headlines when it became the first film to be banned under the 2006 Film Act (censors said the film depicted inappropriate images of student prostitutes and a penis).

I'm Fine Sabai Dee Ka
by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit

"I'm Fine Sabai Dee Ka was made as part of a campaign supporting human rights," says Tanwarin. "I just went to the Democracy Monument and paid a cop 200 baht so he wouldn't stop me from filming. The film was scripted, but there were real people who stopped to take pictures and ask questions. What's interesting is that after I'd made the film, the yellow-shirt people used it to support their cause. Then the red shirts also used it to support their cause.

"Have things changed? I don't think so. We're still locked up in a cage, just as we've been for a century or so. We have a key, but it seems we don't want to unlock ourselves."

I'm Fine Sabai Dee Ka can be viewed on YouTube
(you may need to type "sabai dee ka" in Thai).

A scene from I'm Fine Sabai Dee Ka (2009), a short film by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit.

Instant Democracy
by Prakit Kobkijwattana

Facebook is one of Prakit Kobkijwattana's prominent exhibition spaces. For the past few years, Prakit has published his satirical pop art online, often in direct response to major political events. With Instant Democracy, Prakit draws on Andy Warhol's iconic Campbell's Soup Cans in a satirical look at Thais' idea of how democracy can be achieved. The work was showcased in the "Conflicted Visions" exhibition at WTF Gallery earlier this year. Most of his work, done after the 2006 coup up until 2010, has used symbols from consumerist society and commented on hypocrisy in Bangkok.  

"During this period I started to wonder about a lot of things in society, and one of these is why it is that our country is going through the coups and constitutional amendments so often, and with the same old allegation, corruption. The inspiration for my work? It's those people who died in front of you just for calling for their political rights. You can't pretend to shut your eyes and not question anything about it. People died there. 

"I don't have any expectations on the new constitution because it is written by those who have no faith in democracy. Even though you are using the best form of government in the world, it's no use because you have no respect for the voice of the majority of people, no respect for the equality of all people."  

Prakit Kobkijwattana's Instant Democracy.

Think Kindly
by Chulayarnon Siriphol

In 2009, Chulayarnon Siriphol made an absurdist experimental short film called Think Kindly. At its climax is an historic image of a half-constructed Democracy Monument covered in messy scaffolding (an image he found online). Chulayarnon, one of Thailand's most promising filmmakers and artists who has exhibited his work in many countries, mixes elements of karaoke, spiritual hymns, footage of protests and humorous, collage-like imagery to comment on the state of religion and politics in the Kingdom. His latest film, Myth Of Modernity, was released earlier this year and features an image of the 2013 protests at Democracy Monument.

"I made Think Kindly with friends from university. The idea was to mash up images of the political protests in 2007 and 2008 with Buddhist chanting songs," said Chulayarnon. "I aimed for sarcasm. We often hear that Thailand is a Buddhist country, that we all love peace and there's no conflict. What happened [six years ago] was just a small rift that would soon be cured when Buddhism harmonised everyone.

"But apparently that's not true. The conflict was more than just on the surface and has since deepened. Buddhism has been exploited to serve political ideologies, dividing society into 'good people' and 'bad people'. This leads to our present concern as to whether state and religion should mix. It's that question I'm interested in."

Think Kindly can be viewed on YouTube.  

Think Kindly by Chulayarnon Siriphol combines absurd graphics with social satire.

2475 The Musical
by Pradit Prasartthong

Late last year, Silpathorn Award-winning director Pradit Prasartthong staged 2475 The Musical, a story about Thanpuying Phoonsuk Banomyong, the wife of former Thai prime minister Pridi Banomyong. Pridi was crucial in carrying out the Siamese revolution of 1932, which ended absolute monarchy and brought about Thailand's first constitution. The musical was set around 20 years later, when Pridi was forced to flee the country after staging a failed coup d'etat against Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram's dictatorship. The play was restaged earlier this year, coincidentally as politics were heating up.

"I chose the 20th anniversary celebration of the constitution as a background of the musical to present the irony of it all. Pridi was the one who helped bring about the revolution and our first constitution, but 20 years later his wife and son ended up in prison because of something that was against the constitution. I want audiences to see that this is human nature, this is politics, nothing is predictable. Democracy can never flourish if you don't respect the rules and if you use the power you have in adapting, in changing the rules, into whatever you want to support your own party.

"I think [the new constitution that is being written] is nonsense. Do I have hopes in it? No, I don't. It's just proof that for the past 80 years we have only had a few brief, genuine democratic moments. I'm waiting for a constitution that's written by true representatives of the people. Don't let me say more, people will hate me and not come see my plays." 

A scene from Silpathorn Award-winning director Pradit Prasartthong's 2475 The Musical.

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