Art for royals

23 08 2009

Art and politics always seem to mix in interesting but often suffocating ways.

After years of delay, the opening of the ambitious metropolitan art centre, called the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), at the Pathumwan intersection just across from Paragon/Discovery Centre and MBK, finally had its official opening in August 2009 (it had reportedly opened for business about a year earlier). It is reported to have cost almost 500 million baht. Even before that opening, it hit the headlines with a dispute over control.

The dispute erupted when the Network of Artists for the BACC and the Bangkok Theatre Network said that they would not co-operate with the centre because of the tight control exercised by the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) . One artist threatened to withdraw an international art festival from the Centre’s program. The artists complained that the BMA “had turned a deaf ear to the artists’ demand that the centre be run by an independent foundation, not the BMA’s culture, sports and tourism office, which tended to impose command over artists. Besides, bureaucratic red-tape has resulted in a delay in reimbursement for the artists had advanced money for the BACC’s exhibitions last year.” The artists, disillusioned with politicians and city officials, called for transparency and public participation. Bangkok’s Democrat Party Governor Sukhumbhand Paripatra negotiated with some of the artists, apparently agreeing that the BMA would allow an independent foundation to take over BACC management.

At the time, PPT didn’t take much notice, but saw that the artists’ protest came just as the BACC planned the official opening to be presided over by the queen.

We also saw that the inaugural exhibition included photographs by Princess Sirindhorn entitled “Always Roaming with a Hungry Heart.” The title was nicked from a line in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous poem “Ulysses.” Royal acolyte Thapana Sirivadhanabhakdi, “acting president of the Royal Photographic Society of Thailand under the Royal Patronage of HM the King,” claimed that the title of the princess’s exhibit, reflected “the idea and the way the princess sees the world. She sees with a curiosity and thirst for knowledge…”. The photos were of no great worth as art, but royals do occupy a particular place in opening things and are promoted as artistic, even if the work they produce is rather ordinary and sometimes banal.

PPT has no idea if the BMA handed over to the artists. What is clear, though, is that the royalist suffocation of art in Thailand is continuing and expanding as political conflict involving the monarchy becomes more intense. Propaganda might well trump art (or some of it).

The latest exhibition, also said to be an “inaugural exhibition” – how many can there be? – is reported in The Nation (23 August 2009: “Portraits of our Parents”) is a “tribute to the Queen.” She attended for her birthday celebrations, with the Nation’s journalist gushing that this was “a grand public appearance.” Apparently, the exhibition “Virtues of the Kingdom” occupies all nine floors of the Centre’s display space, with ” three areas dedicated to His Majesty the King’s untiring work for the country and the Queen’s devotion to art and culture.” The images of the king are shown in the “The King’s Portrait: The Art of Iconography” which, not by chance, is on the ninth floor. The art displayed is often hackneyed in theme: the king as a young prince,  royal rain-making, “sufficiency,” traditional motifs, royal anthem, Klaikangwol Palace and “rare” photographs of royal travels abroad.

PPT  realizes that public space is continuing to be suffocated by royalism but this continuing but ultimately doomed attempt to control art and to determine public perceptions of the royals and their startling talents feels that art is being brought to political purpose in support of state ideology. This is not unusual and various governments and political regimes – fascist, statist and others – have attempted to have artworks glorify the state, its leaders and its activities. Such air is often difficult to breathe.



2 responses

21 10 2009
New: More royal brilliance? « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] Apparently, after topping her class at Chulalongkorn University, this brilliant royal jetted off for “intensive fashion designed [sic.] with Armani in Milan Italy” and she has now jetted back for ” her solo exhibition” entitled “How I see it: Sketches, drawings and paintings.” PPT has commented on royal “art” previously. […]

31 10 2009
New: Stifling creative talents « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] and art talent, and the metropolitan art center, called the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, being dominated by displays of royal dross that could come from any family album. Only art that is royal or lauds things royal […]

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