Repressing the middle class

28 02 2016

We remain bemused by the military junta’s approach to the draft charter. Sometimes it appears that the junta actually thinks they can force through a Yes vote in the referendum.

The junta had one of these delusions when they heard that Prachamati, which Prachatai says is an “online forum which summarises controversial content in the draft constitution and allow people to vote whether they agree or disagree with it” was planning “a seminar about the controversial new draft constitution titled ‘New Constitution: What Are We Going to Do?’…”.VOTE NO

Thai Police have banned the seminar declaring it a (seemingly threatening) political gathering of five or more persons, which the junta cannot abide, even if it organizes political events itself.

The seminar was to be held at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, hardly a known venue for sedition.

The police had the BACC staff tell “the organisers that they have to prohibit the event from being held at the venue.”

Prachamati responded, saying: “We just hope that people will still have space to express their opinion about the new draft constitution in various different means and not having their rights arbitrarily suppressed…. We will continue to campaign to create awareness about the draft charter online.”

Prachamati website was founded with the cooperation of Prachatai and Thaipublica, both middle-class alternative media agencies, iLaw, which monitors and promotes freedom of expression and the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, which is a part of Mahidol University.

The more the junta cracks down on the middle class, the weaker it seems. Whether that is due to internal rifts, authoritarian madness or fascist mentality, it matters little, for it widens repression and reduces support for the junta from the frightened middle classes.

Talentless royals

14 12 2013

Readers might not be interested in yet another piece of royal nonsense at a place that is meant to be about art.

The Nation reports that the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre has a display of a royals travel snaps on display. They don’t deserve the label “art,” so we assume that posterior polishing is considered “culture.” Sirindhorn snap

While normal people put there travel snaps at media sharing sites, the royalist bottom buffers at the BACA seem to think that those who travel far, often at taxpayer expense, deserve a display even if the snaps have no merit other than being from a princess.Sirindhorn's snap of a cat

The lack of artistic merit in Princess Sirindhorn’s “work” is clear in the two examples here. They are little different to the infantile stuff usually posted at Facebook by 13 year-olds.

The monarchy as a divisive issue

24 03 2012

PPT is late to this story that appeared at Prachatai. The story there is reasonably easy to follow, with some interesting pictures.

In short, back in January, an event called ‘Freedom Suspended’ was proposed for 18 March by a group of writers called Saeng Samnuek at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. The event was to discuss the issues of lese majeste and the monarchy. That the BACC approved this is a surprise, but they did, until panic set in five days before the event. The BACC director mumbled that the “event was not permitted, saying that the centre was supposed to be a space free from any conflicts whatsoever.”

Interestingly, the director apparently thinks that the monarchy is now one of those divisive issues in Thai society that can lead to violence! That’s quite a change from all the “highly revered” stuff. The director opined:

Sometimes there are some sensitive issues which might lead to violence. So the centre should be reserved for art and cultural activities by diverse groups of people….

As long as it isn’t about diverse views on the divisive monarchy.

Those thrown out tried to hold the event at Chulalongkorn University but couldn’t and eventually held it at the 14 October Memorial. They also demonstrated at the BACC – see the pictures at Prachatai.

Long-time readers of PPT might recall that we twice posted in 2009 on the BACC. The first post had background on the Centre and conflict over its control. Generally the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has held and pulled the strings. The BACC’s first official exhibit was of the pedestrian snaps by Princess Sirindhorn. As we said back then, 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.

This exhibit was soon followed by more banal royalist trivia. An exhibition for the queen’s birthday was called “Virtues of the Kingdom” and occupied every single one of the Centre’s nine floors of display space. The “art” displayed was hackneyed royalism.

The second post showed how the royalist suffocation of art had grown depressingly more banal as the BACC promoted talentless royal “art.”  Supposedly polymath princess Sirivannavari Nariratana was portrayed as a designer and art talent at a BACC that was overflowing with displays of royal dross.

We guess royal “art” is not divisive because most people recognize it as simply propaganda and posterior polishing.

Stifling creative talents

31 10 2009

Kong Rithdee, who writes about interesting movies and provides useful insights regarding popular culture in the Bangkok Post has a column that deserves to be read (Bangkok Post, 31 October 2009: “Creativity that leaves one agog”).

Kong points out that the Democrat Party-led government has earmarked “creative industries” for special attention, even allocating 5 billion baht to develop the necessary human resources and infrastructure. Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot, has trumpeted taht Thailand will become “the hub of creative industry in Asean.” He also makes the astounding claim that this industry will almost double in size, “from 12 to 20% of GNP by 2012.”

Kong says: “Great. It will be a lavish buffet table.” But then he makes an even more important point. This government is doing all it can to stifle creative talent. The really creative people, Kong says, are “continually persecuted by the conservative cultural agencies.” He asks: “how can we foster the creative atmosphere amid primitive-minded censorship? Don’t the two concepts cancel each other out?” PPT joins the chorus in answering affirmitively.

As Kong goes on to explain, “Frighteningly, it’s political content that pricks the censors even more than iced nipples, proving that the concept of critical art is not permitted here in this [supposedly] awesomely creative land.” He provides examples.

The first is a “new  Thai horror film Haunted Universities … [that] was ordered to cut two shots that show a soldier shooting at university students in an event that refers to the Oct 14 uprising, which left the university haunted.”  Why were these scenes ordered cut? It seems the snippers and protectors at the Culture Ministry such scenes obviously threatened “national security.”

The second example is from just a couple of days ago, when the film This Area Is Under Quarantine was banned. The reason for its banning is because it included “footage of the Tak Bai incident.” As Kong points out, “this footage, however, has been available … everywhere in this country for years.”

To explain just how silly all this has become, Kong points out that: “if you’re making a video of your wedding, according to the new law you have to submit it to the ratings board first! Likewise, films made at film schools to be shown for the instructors to grade will, officially, have to go through the censors, too. That’s the most creative idea we’ve heard in this country, and no doubt we’ll lead Southeast Asia in our creative glory very, very soon.”

Kong certainly doesn’t mention it, but when PPT looks at what this government does promote as acceptable art we see royal “art” that is mostly talentless. We have the vainglorious Princess Ubol Ratana being promoted as a movie talent, polymath princess Sirivannavari Nariratana portrayed as a designer and art talent, and the metropolitan art center, called the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, being dominated by displays of royal dross. Only art that is royal or lauds things royal seems to count.

This kind of censorship is silly but it is also extremely dangerous. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his government have engaged in a broad campaign for the control of the media and in doing so they show themselves to be authoritarian. This is no campaign with a political motive born of the moment; rather, this is at the heart of this government’s political strategy and repression is continually used to prevent broad debate.

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.

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