Published on December 20, 2007
Many corrupt Thai politicians have been following Sri Tha-nonchai's idea of "smart cheating", at least according to a group of artists who are telling the story of this traditional Thai folk hero in the exhibition "Art of Corruption" at the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture's gallery at Bangkok's TPI Tower.
"Corruption has deep roots in Thai society and has become one of country's major problems," says Apinan Poshyananda, director of the Office of Knowledge, Management and Development Thailand, who's pushing a year-ahead plan for art shows in parallel with the election season.
Dozens of artists, designers and performers are participating in this exhibition, which deals with political and sociological issues, through installations, sculptures, multimedia, photography and design.
Sutee Kunavichayanond's interesting installation "Sri Thanonchai Art" links Thai folk culture with today's corrupt society. Presented in a small room, viewers are invited to walk past paper curtains that depict the words "cheat" and "great" in both English and Thai in a traditional Thai motif. They then step into a dimly lit room covered with wallpaper bearing the same words and come across a light sculpture coiled into a sitting Buddha shape with a Thai script reading "Dee chua roo mod (tae man od mai dai) - meaning "[we] all know what good is and what is bad, but we can't resist [cheating]".
Sutee plays with words that are very much part of the current political vocabulary like "cheat" and "great", which have similar spellings but opposite meanings.
Near his sculpture, the artist displays a book about Sri Thanonchai, murals depicting Bangkok's Wat Pathumwaram and Thai sayings and theories related to corruption.
Painter and writer Ink K is also inspired by Sri Thanonchai. Her oil painting "Gestation" depicts a pregnant women dressed in red reading a book titled "Sri Thanonchai".
Kamol Phaosavasdi satirises Thailand's corrupt society with his installation "Hall of Frame", asking viewers to nominate a person, a project or an organisation for the best corruption award. He even provides a ballot box and ballot slips. The prize is a penis-shaped trophy. On the wall, the artist hangs a blank frame to indicate that while corrupt people may appear invisible, corruption is everywhere.
Reflecting social illness through the lens, photography artist Manit Sriwanichapoom's photo installation "Collateral Damage" shows a series of portraits of sick children whose lives have been affected by the pollution at the Industrial Estate Authority in Rayong's Banchang. Installed in a dark room, viewers are invited on a tortured walk where black and white portraits reveal sad eyes and skin allergies, while the sound of moaning expresses the children's suffering.
"My work reflects how corrupt projects affect citizens, especially our children, who are our future. My work is a response to Samak Sudaravej's remark that 'corruption does not kill anybody'," explains Manit.
Outspoken artist/activist Vasan Sitthiket, the Artist Party's leader, uses shadow puppets to convey his satire. His puppets depict Thai politicians like former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Samak Sundaravej and Abhisit Vejjajiva as well as himself.
"Our country is in danger, as corrupt politicians are cheating us," Vasan narrates, while manipulating his puppets.
Porntaweesak Rimsakul's "Bakery" seems full of delicious goodies. To show how corrupt politicians share benefits, the artist asks viewers to cut a piece of cake, revealing small objects inside. Eating cake is like cheating our country.
Sakarin Krue-on's "Balance of Fear" installation is a metaphor for fear of losing the election. As the visitor walks into a dark room, he sees a video of a dog barking at its own shadow reflected in a pond of petroleum.
These are just a few of the more visible corrupt issues that Thai artists are noticing in the Kingdom. Through their works they are asking if we Thais want a contemporary Sri Thanonchai to win this Sunday's election.
"The Art of Corruption" runs until January 20 at Office of Contemporary Art and Culture's gallery in TPI Tower on Narathiwat Rachanakharin Road. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm. For more information call (02) 678 6666.