Manit Sriwanichpoom is one of Thailand's leading photographic artists, examining and commenting on the contemporary socio-political context in Thailand through his works. He is well known for his ongoing Pink Man series, which addresses the culture of consumerism in Thailand. The Artling interviewed the artist on the occassion of his recent solo exhibition, Fear, presented at Yavuz Gallery concurrently with three other galleries in Bangkok, to find out more about his thoughts on the current situation in Thailand and his advice for young artists.
After I graduated in visual arts in 1984, I felt that I knew nothing about my society and the world. Being a photojournalist was a good way to learn about it. After a while I found that the job I was doing had its limitations; I couldn’t include my opinion on the subjects I was photographing. I had to be objective, not subjective like an artist. I’m not supposed to say anything good or bad about persons or situations I don’t like in my photoreportage. That’s why I decided to quit photojournalism. I wanted to be free and be myself 100%.
The political and cultural context is the key of my decision how to present art works to the public. In the case of Queuing for Happiness that reflects how the ruler (coup maker) treated the ruled people as helpless children. Actually this kind of attitude is common for people at the high levels of Thai society. That’s why at H Gallery where Royal Monument, Chakri Dynasty series was hung on the walls, I found that it’s much stronger to lay Queuing for Happiness on the floor. It wouldn’t make sense if I do that at Yavuz Gallery since Singapore has no monarchy.
I’m lucky my medium is the photograph, a universal language that’s easier to understand, not literature with Thai language that needs translation. I do realise the political, social and cultural differences, but I believe that if I can move some Thais’ feelings I can move others too.
Like many countries in Asia, in Thailand, people still believe in superstition. The solar eclipse is one of the phenomena that heralds changes to people’s lives, even the nation’s fate. It’s common in newspapers to report about fortune tellers’ prediction on what’s going to happen to our society and country. The last eclipse in Southeast Asia was in March 2016 (the full eclipse could be seen in Indonesia), and our Thai fortune tellers said that a big change at the core structure of the country would happen. The prediction reminded me of the solar eclipse of August 1868 during the reign of King Mongkut who led Siam (the country's former name) into the modern era. He used his own scientific prediction of the eclipse to assert Siam’s modernity and sovereignty in the eyes of the colonial powers, and to convince his own countrymen to embrace the rationality of science, and abandon their superstitious fear of the total eclipse. It’s a tragedy and parody that when he and his son, the crown prince, went back to the palace after the trip to view the eclipse with foreign diplomats they both got malaria. Just over a month later, the King passed away but his son survived to succeed him to the throne. Our present King, Rama IX, has been hospitalised for months, and we keep following monthly royal news bulletins about his health. That’s why Thai people are worried about what happens next.
Be honest. Be courageous. And ask yourselves whether your art is of benefit to society or just yourselves only. If you have confidence that you’re doing the right thing with your art, and there is no other way to do it, then just do it but don’t forget to prepare for the consequences as well.
Censorship in any country or society has one thing in common. It’s the act of fear by people in power. They are insecure in their own power. They cannot be criticised or challenged by powerless opponents.
In contradiction to your comment, I think my exhibition reflects how Thai people are more politically engaged than ever before. Shutdown Bangkok was a good example. It was possible only because millions of people in Bangkok and the provinces came out to occupy the capital for over 7 months. Thai people no longer tolerate corruption and power abuse by politicians.
Right now I’m working on an exhibition project that will spotlight emerging photographers for my Kathmandu Photo Gallery. Besides that I’m organising a retrospective exhibition of a contemporary photography pioneer Pramuan Burusphat for early February 2017. And also I’m trying to help make Photo Bangkok Festival, the second edition, happen in 2018.
Manit Sriwanichpoom's solo exhibition Fear continues until 18 September 2016 at Yavuz Gallery (Gillman Barracks, 9 Lock Road #02-23, Singapore 108937).
Find out more about the exhibition here.
Any views or opinions in the interview are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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