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Jun 20 2017

Thai Soldiers Censor Art Exhibition in Bangkok

by Sonia Yu
HARIT SRIKHAO, Chosen Boys, 2015–16, print on fine art paper, 39.7 × 59.4 cm. Courtesy Gallery Ver, Bangkok.
HARIT SRIKHAO, Chosen Boys, 2015–16, print on fine art paper, 39.7 × 59.4 cm. Courtesy Gallery Ver, Bangkok.
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On June 15, Thai soldiers forced their way into two Bangkok galleries that were hosting exhibitions by two young Thai contemporary artists whose works reflect on their homeland’s political landscape. The military took down three collages by photographer Harit Srikhao that were part of the “Whitewash” exhibition at Gallery Ver. Next door in Cartel Artspace, Tada Hengsapkul, who was listed as one of Forbes Asia’s “30 Under 30” figures in 2016, faced the same harassment, though none of his works in “The Shards Would Shatter at Touch” were removed.

In Harit’s censored exhibition, the artist introduced personal and collective memories of the violent military crackdown against Redshirt protesters in 2010, in which more than 90 people were killed. In Harit’s absence, and lacking consent by the owner of Gallery Ver, the Thai army removed artworks without providing justification.

“I’m not sure what the reasons were,” but what happened “was not beyond expectation,” Harit told Thai media outlet Khaosod.

Harit’s photographic works are inspired by the “Big Cleaning Day” activity, which took place on May 23, 2010. On that day, Bangkok was flooded with a white cleaning agent meant to remove all filth from the streets. Many affluent Bangkok residents participated in the event, donning rubber gloves and masks. Harit highlighted the superficial show of good faith and the cheap sentiment belying the activity in his photographs.

The soldiers had visited neighboring Cartel Artspace earlier in the afternoon, as they were under the incorrect impression that Pronthip “Kolf” Mankong, who has been convicted of lèse-majesté, was hosting the show.

Instead, Pronthip’s visage was merely presented as one of the images in “The Shards Would Shatter at Touch”—without her permission. After the exhibition opened, she published a critical article in Prachatai, a Thai online news platform known for its progressive and anti-establishment stance, about Tada using her images of political prisoners’ portraits without permission. Because of Pronthip’s article, Tada had a hunch that the Thai army would rear its head: “I knew it right away, soldiers would definitely come visit us.”

Tada’s installation of work captured the lives and memories of political prisoners. The artist had been accused of stealing images from the internet for his own use, though he explained to the military that he had taken down Pronthip’s self-portrait and images of other political prisoners long before the soldiers’ arrival.

Tada’s exhibition ends today, on June 20, 2017. 

Sonia Yu is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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