MANIT SRIWANICHPOOM, Wall of Conscience (detail), 2013, gelatin silver print, set of 10 photographs: 50 × 500 cm. Courtesy the artist and Yavuz Gallery, Singapore. 


Manit Sriwanichpoom

Yavuz Gallery
Thailand Singapore

Thai artist Manit Sriwanichpoom is afraid. He’s afraid of his country’s ongoing political disarray, for those disenfranchised by its chaotic metamorphoses and for their future. The photographer, whose practice emerged from photojournalism, is presenting six photographic series and a video installation at Singapore’s Yavuz Gallery, all of which observe the socio-political unmooring of Thailand in recent years. The exhibition “Fear” is Manit’s response to his country’s fraught, ambiguous path.

Manit, a longtime social critic and activist, is founder of the prominent Kathmandu Photo Gallery in Bangkok, as well as a filmmaker (his award-winning 2012 film Shakespeare Must Die was funded, then abruptly banned by the Thai government as being “politically divisive”). He is perhaps best known for his performative “Pink Man” photo series (1997– ), a quirky, acerbic take on consumerism. In “Fear,” Manit’s imagery reflects a certain journalistic detachment, making direct allusion to Thailand’s ongoing social turmoil. A glance at Thai politics sheds contextual light on Manit’s works: it is the only country in Southeast Asia that never experienced colonial rule; and its modern socio-political character has long been shaped through vacillations of power between Buddhism, the military and a hereditary monarchy. Over the last several years, political corruption and machinations have led to the ouster of a string of prime ministers, culminating in a military putsch in 2014. Today Thailand is run by a military junta calling itself the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), endorsed by elderly King Bhumibol, a figurehead of national identity and unity.

MANIT SRIWANICHPOOM, Wall of Conscience, 2013, gelatin silver print, set of 10 photographs: 50 × 500 cm. Courtesy the artist and Yavuz Gallery, Singapore. 

At Yavuz, Manit is exhibiting two panoramic, black-and-white compositions. Wall of Conscience (2013) portrays a long and ponderous concrete barricade that was erected in 2013 around the Government House against protesters of then-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. (The artist points out that, ironically, this event fell on the 40th anniversary of the October 14 Uprising, a historic mass protest for democracy.) Wall comprises a row of 10 separately framed gelatin-silver prints, which manifest as a single bleak barrier. Against the milky over-exposed background, heads of guards are visible behind clear Perspex riot shields. Meanwhile, in the lengthy, scroll-like Queuing for Happiness (2014), Manit looks at the “Reconciliation Festival to Return Happiness to the People,” which was held by the NCPO after their takeover of the country. As benevolent benefactor, the NCPO offered free goods and services for all, which is portrayed in the work as 11 discrete, merged photographs of young and old people, queuing expectantly for their fair share. Along the top of this photographic procession, just above the heads of those in line, the artist has interjected a band of bright Pantone yellow. Yellow, we find, is King Bhumibol’s “personal color” and thus implies a benediction of sorts; yet, unperceived by the crowd, this dense golden garland echoes the oppressive concrete barricade in Wall of Conscience.


MANIT SRIWANICHPOOM, The Parliament of Happy Generals #08, 2014, archival print, series of 60 photographs, 62.5 x 50 cm each. Courtesy the artist and Yavuz Gallery, Singapore. 

MANIT SRIWANICHPOOMThe Parliament of Happy Generals #09, 2014, archival print, series of 60 photographs, 62.5 x 50 cm each. Courtesy the artist and Yavuz Gallery, Singapore. 


In The Parliament of Happy Generals (2014) Manit pixelates individual portraits of ruling NCPO officers (who rarely appear in public). The gallery presented 55 of these as a wallpaper montage, conflated as a candy-colored abstraction of power. Nearby, the installation Ratchadamnoen Motor Show (2014) comprises 11 illuminated Duratrans prints scattered across one wall, linked by draped electrical cords. Motor Show is Manit’s documented archive of police riot vehicles vandalized by protesters. The artist captures the quiet aftermath of rage: a chaotic jumble of cars splashed with graffiti and paint, strewn with brilliant nuggets of shattered windshield glass, cigarette butts and other detritus. Manit’s defaced effigies of the state proclaim that authority can be defied, while exposing the impotence of that defiance.

MANIT SRIWANICHPOOM, Ratchadamnoen Motor Show #4, 2014, archival print, 40 × 60 cm. Courtesy the artist and Yavuz Gallery, Singapore. 

MANIT SRIWANICHPOOM, Queuing for Happiness, 2014, archival print, set of 11 photographs, 110 × 704 cm. Courtesy the artist and Yavuz Gallery, Singapore. 

MANIT SRIWANICHPOOMThe Last Photograph of the King of Siam, 2016, archival print, 29.7 × 21 cm. Courtesy the artist and Yavuz Gallery, Singapore. 

Three linked photographic narratives in “Fear” ponder legacy, tradition and fate. The Last Photograph of the King of Siam (2016) is Manit’s re-examination of a small vintage photograph taken in 1868 of the progressive King Rama IV, notable for bringing Siam into the modern era. The king poses with his entourage in a remote Thai jungle to view a solar eclipse, predicted by the monarch himself. (His attempts to impart scientific rationalism to a superstitious kingdom were, ironically, undermined when he died of malaria shortly after this eclipse, having been warned of its evil portents by court astrologers.) Below the king’s photograph, Manit annexes another block of staunch royal yellow. Alongside Last Photograph is the video installation Siam Eclipse 1868 (2016), a photographic plate taken of that arguably deadly eclipse, as revisited by Manit, who digitizes the old glass negative of the glowing corona into a loop, perpetuating that lucid moment of totality. A third related work is a series of imposing meter-square prints in muddy grays titled “Royal Monuments, Chakri Dynasty” (2014). Eight of these hang at the gallery, each depicting the statue of a deceased Thai monarch, which the artist has bathed in the penumbral tones of an eclipse.

In “Fear,” Manit traces Thailand’s prevailing distemper via visual anecdotes of chaos and imbalance, injected with elegant, witty allegories reminiscent of his “Pink Man” series. A king’s death by eclipse, the golden illumination cast by a monarch, and absurd jumbles of cars and generals all add potency to Manit’s scrutiny of a country in crisis. The artist may be fearful for Thailand’s future, but he is not afraid to face it with shrewdness and insight.


Installation view of MANIT SRIWANICHPOOM’s “Fear” at Yavuz Gallery, Singapore, 2016. Courtesy Yavuz Gallery. 

Manit Sriwanichpoom’s “Fear” is now on view at Yavuz Gallery, Singapore, until September 18, 2016.