The legendary lives of Thai Buddha statues, lecture by Angela Chiu, 06/11/2017, British Museum
In this talk, Angela Chiu, author of The Buddha in Lanna: Art, Lineage, Power and Place in Northern Thailand (2017), introduces the ancient Thai Buddha statues, some still enshrined today, whose miraculous origins and adventures promoted the growth of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. She considers what motivated the people of the past to create these statues, often at great expense and with significant effort, and reveals how each statue has its own unique ‘life’, initially as the creation of individuals whose hopes and values were embodied in these extraordinary pieces of art.
Bonnie Brereton: Finding democracy in Buddhist murals, interview by Peera Songkünnatham, 20/10/2017, The Isaan Record
Old temple murals, known as huptaem in Lao, are going through a cultural renaissance in the Northeast, after decades of being neglected and demolished in favor of Bangkok-style murals. Dating back to the early twentieth century, murals on the walls of ordination halls, or sim, depict popular stories like the life of the Buddha, Vessantara Jataka, and religious imageries like heaven and hell. They also feature local landscapes and everyday activities like farming in a uniquely vernacular style.
This form of people’s art is only now beginning to be recognized, both locally and nationally. The Tourism Authority of Thailand is finally promoting visiting sim – and not just bat caves and snake farms in central Isaan, as it has done for many years. In 2015, a nonfiction book tracing the Lao epic SangSinxay on murals in Isaan won a national prize.
This past August, a seminar in Khon Kaen, organized by the Faculty of Fine Arts of Khon Kaen University (KKU) and the Isan Writers Association, brought together experts on literature, visual arts, and community development, to explore and discuss huptaem on both sides of the Mekong. Several Laotian experts participated in the seminar as well.
One of the presenters was Dr. Bonnie Pacala Brereton, an American art historian and Buddhist studies scholar who specializes in vernacular forms of cultural expression in Isaan and the North.
Since 2004 she has been a researcher at the Center for Research on Plurality in the Mekong Region, Khon Kaen University. Along with Somroay Yencheuy, she is a co-author of a 2010 book BuddhistMuralsofNortheastThailand:Reflectionsofthe IsanHeartland. An earlier book, Thai Tellings of Phra Malai, (1995) was a study of the different regional versions of the Phra Malai story.
In this interview Brereton talks about her interpretation of the murals as a “democratic vision of society,” and the growing recognition of the shared culture in a region stretching from central Isaan to Laos.
Archiving the ignored 6 October Massacre by Kornkritch Somjittranukit, 06/10/2017, Prachatai (English)
Entretien avec Puangthong Pawakapan
To break the taboo in Thai society surrounding the 1976 Massacre, a group of scholars have founded an online archive of the incident in the hope that Thai society will be able to learn from its bloody past.
In the early morning of 6 October 1976, Thai right-wing groups staged a massacre of students at Thammasat University. More than a hundred student activists were killed by military and paramilitary forces and right-wing mobs and over 3,000 were arrested allegedly for being communists and threatening Thailand’s monarchy.
Even though the incident occurred over 40 years ago, knowledge of the event is very limited, partly because it is a sensitive issue and the “Octobrists” (people who joined the student movements around 14 October 1971 and 6 October 1976) who survived the massacre have rarely talked about it in detail.
The incident shows that Thai society can be extremely brutal against those who think differently from the establishment. The fear of talking about the massacre is, therefore, strongly rooted in Thai society, preventing serious discussion and investigation of the incident.
But some have bitten the bullet. On 24 September 2017, the “Documentation of 6 Oct” project launched its website www.doct6.com at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science. The website is an online archive of material and information related to the massacre which has been largely ignored by Thai society.
The contents of the archive include documentary films, witness testimonies, photographs and interviews with massacre survivors and the families of those who were killed.
To commemorate the massacre, Prachatai interviewed Puangthong Pawakapan, the project coordinator. She hopes that this website will help Thai people to see a clearer picture of what actually happened on 6 October 1976.
Un panorama unique de la littérature thaïlandaise contemporaine, « une architecture de proses et de poésies formant un portrait d’une littérature peu connue d’un pays mondialement touristique« , comme l’écrit Jean-Noël Orengo. Dix-neuf auteurs, pour la plupart traduits pour la première fois en français. Un recueil richement illustré grâce aux travaux de trois artistes du cru. A paraître le 9 octobre.
« Getting out of Thailand’s political cul-de-sac » by Thitinan Pongsudhirak, 06/10/2017, Nikkei Asian Review
For ruling elites, quest for legitimacy could prove a trap of their own making
Thailand has come full circle again. The kingdom’s 12-year pattern of a political juggernaut being elected to office and later abusing power before being ousted by his or her opponents still holds. This time, as determined by the country’s highest court, the outcome is a five-year jail term for former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on charges of negligence over her government’s flawed rice subsidy scheme that ran from Thailand’s last poll in July 2011 until the latest military coup in May 2014.
While this cycle of a popular mandate being overturned by judicial and military maneuvers repeats itself, the persistent conundrum for Thailand is whether those who rule without electoral legitimacy will perform well enough to stay in power — or whether calling the shots from the sidelines will lead to another (and possibly more damaging) round of internal conflict and turmoil.
First, it is instructive to put the Yingluck trial in perspective. Like her eldest brother and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was re-elected by a landslide in 2005 only to be toppled by a putsch the following year, Yingluck led the Pheu Thai party to a resounding win in parliamentary elections and became the country’s first female head of government. The Shinawatras’ popularity derived from concrete policies that pandered to poorer rungs of society, particularly rural constituencies. When Thaksin had his turn earlier, his platform featured a universal health care that guaranteed treatment for just 30 baht, or about $1 — and a microcredit scheme that bestowed 1 million baht on each of about 77,000 villages. For Yingluck, Thaksin’s inner sanctum on policy contrivance similarly decided on numbers that are easy to remember. Farmers were guaranteed 15,000 baht per ton of rice, undergraduate degree holders 15,000 baht monthly salary, and wage earners 300 baht a day.
These numbers were designed to woo the electorate, and were not based on rationally calculated policy programs with logical and longer-term policy objectives. But whether and how much the rice-pledging led to billions of dollars in fiscal losses — as claimed in the legal charge leveled against Yingluck — is a different matter. Thaksin’s policy bet through the Yingluck premiership was premised on cornering the world rice market by accumulating Thai rice and paying farmers handsomely right away. If the accumulated rice could be sold on world markets with higher prices, then a handsome profit would accrue. If not, corresponding losses would be incurred. As it turned out, Thailand quickly discovered it was no longer the only major rice exporter. The rice-pledging scheme was a profligate gamble and a policy disaster. Its exact losses can only be valued when all the stored rice is sold with proceeds compared with originally purchased prices.
Pattana Kitiarsa, « Of Men and Monks: The Boxing-Buddhism Nexus and the Production of National Manhood in Contemporary Thailand », 02/10/2013, New Mandala
Introduced by Peter Vail, The National University of Singapore.
Dr. Pattana Kitiarsa, Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, pursued a wide range of research interests before his untimely passing in January 2013. Chief among these were transnational labor migration, in particular the lives of Thai migrant construction workers in Singapore. He connected this work to other facets of life in rural northeastern Thailand, the region from which he himself originated. He examined popular Thai cinema, vernacular Buddhism, and maintained an avid interest in Muay Thai, i.e. Thai-style boxing, the national sport ubiquitous among Thailand’s lower classes.
The son of an avid boxer and thus someone exposed to boxing since early childhood, Pattana studied Muay Thai in a way that was at once passionately humanistic and anthropologically informed. He strove to understand the cultural meanings that Muay Thai embodies for rural Thais, in particular how it functions to construct masculinity. He understood the Muay Thai boxer as a key cultural archetype that connects Thai men to other pervasive masculine models–especially monks–and more broadly to the imagined nation at large. Pattana argued that Muay Thai boxing provides a narrative in which poor Thai men can imagine themselves simultaneously as dedicated breadwinners and as national heroes. It is this embodied perspective–boxing and mobility through the eyes of its everyday practitioners–that constitutes the greatest contribution of his work in this area and clearly connects his research on Muay to his other interests in labor migration and popular Buddhism. The paper below, unfinished at the time of his death, was presented in the International Conference on “Mega-Sporting Event in the Age of New Developmentalism: Perspectives from Asia” at the Enyuu Gakusya, Hokkaido University, held on 28-29 July 2012. It represents an early version of ideas and arguments pertaining to Muay Thai that Pattana was formulating and refining, and which he was intent on developing further. With the help of Pattana’s widow Aj Rungnapa Kitiarsa and his long-time collaborator and dear friend Aj Suriya Smutkupt, Michael Montesano prepared this paper for its publication on New Mandala, incorporating material from the notes that Pattana had prepared for his presentation at Hokkaido University.
Will democracy in the Philippines go the way of Thailand? by Michael Vatikiotis, 14/09/2017, The Economist
Rodrigo Duterte bears many similarities to Thaksin Shinawatra
WHEN Filipinos attempt to explain the political success of their tough-guy president, Rodrigo Duterte, they tend to point to local precursors. Joseph Estrada, a former matinée idol who had often played Robin Hood types, rose to the presidency by promising to be hard on bad guys and good to the poor. And then there is Ferdinand Marcos, who cultivated an image as a war hero to win election before assuming dictatorial powers, and whose reputation Mr Duterte is doing his best to restore.
Both these comparisons make Mr Duterte’s knack of casting himself as a friend of the people while giving short shrift to the niceties of democracy seem like a function of Philippine politics, in which populists occasionally attempt to stir up resentment against the hereditary caste of landowners who dominate government and the economy. After all, despite regular elections and much talk of reform, the 40 best-connected families still control about three-quarters of the Philippines’ wealth. Poverty is equally entrenched, as a visit to Manila’s slums or the southern, partly Muslim island of Mindanao makes clear.
But the Philippines is not the only country in South-East Asia with an entrenched establishment presiding over profound inequality. Most are blighted by single-party rule, or by a political churn which does not seem to have much impact on local power structures. Thailand, with a monarchy manipulated by the elites, is a case in point. The purpose of 12 military coups, two in the past 12 years, has been, as Michael Vatikiotis argues in “Blood and Silk”, a perceptive new book on the region, to maintain “an imposing if arcane edifice of power and [cultivate] a conservative mindset that has prevented the devolution of power and autonomy to ordinary people.”
« Malay manuscripts from Patani » by Annabel Teh Gallop, 04/08/2017, Asian and African Studies Blog (British Library)
Patani is a culturally Malay-Muslim region located on the northeast coast of the Malay peninsula, in the southern part of Thailand. It has long been renowned as a cradle of Malay art and culture, and especially as a centre for Islamic learning, with close links with the Holy Cities of Arabia. Patani has produced many notable Islamic scholars, the most prominent being Daud bin Abdullah al-Patani (1769-1847), who lived and wrote in Mecca in the first half of the 19th century. scholars, and Wan Ahmad al-Patani (1856-1908), the first Superintendent of the Malay press in Mecca. Patani is one of the great centres of the Malay manuscript tradition, and many manuscripts from Patani are now held in the National Library of Malaysia and the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
The British Library holds two manuscripts probably from Patani, both of which may have been copied very recently, and which have been fully digitised. One contains a well-known Malay tale, Hikayat Raja Khandak dan Raja Badar (Or.16128), set during the early wars of Islam, in which the eponymous villain, Raja Khandak (known in some versions as Raja Handak or Raja Handik) and his son Raja Badar battle against the forces of the Prophet. It was a very popular story, and is also found in Javanese, Sundanese, Acehnese and Makassar versions.
The second manuscript aquired from the same source, Or. 16129, consists of only 11 folios and contains an unidentified religious work (or fragment of a work) by Imām Aḥmad (the Sunni jurist Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal, 780-855) on the shahādah (profession of faith), set within frames with a commentary written in the margins. The main text has a colophon stating that it was written on 24 Muharam 160 (14 February 1844) in Mecca. This manuscript is also written in a small neat hand with a ‘modern’ feel, but in this case modern influences are clearly manifest in the use of certain punctuation elements such as brackets and numbered points within the text, indicating a date of production in the 20th century and perhaps even suggesting that the manuscript might have been copied from a printed source.
« Deep South ‘Patani arts’ opens in the North » by Kong Rithdee, 20/07/2017, Bangkok Post
A major contemporary art exhibition about the Deep South is on display at a museum in Chiang Mai, one of the biggest gatherings of artists from the region, with the addition of others whose works touch on the stories of conflicts and violence in the southernmost provinces.
« Patani Semasa » opened last night at MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum in San Kamphaeng, Chiang Mai. It features 27 artists who work in painting, photography, installation pieces and video art.
The majority are from « Patani », the generic and historic name of the provinces of the Deep South. Many are women, and while the exhibition generally showcases the development of contemporary art in the region, the dominant theme at this show is the loss, reflection and hope that come with the protracted unrest plaguing the region for decades, particularly since 2004.
ASEAN Film Festival winner Kirsten Tan: “Never take the unchanging province for granted”, 26/07/2017, The Isaan Record
A weary man approaches the camera, his purple umbrella barely reaching the eyes of the elephant beside him. There is no rain for the umbrella, but it shields him from the harsh sun as he travels from the country’s urban center to a rural border province in Isaan. The journey is demanding, not just physically but emotionally in a trip down memory lane.
Pop Aye, the debut feature by Kirsten Tan, a Singaporean filmmaker based in New York, follows a Bangkok architect’s journey to his hometown in Loei Province. The protagonist, Thana, explores his past amidst a midlife crisis alongside his childhood companion, the film’s titular elephant.
Tan was raised in Singapore and lived in South Korea and Thailand before moving to New York. She completed a Master’s in Film Production at New York University. Her work has been showcased in over 40 international film festivals, including Sundance Film Festival 2017, where Pop Aye won the Special Jury Prize in Screenwriting.
In May, Pop Aye went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at ASEAN Film Festival 2017 in Bangkok, where the film premiered in Thailand.
The Isaan Record talks to Tan about Pop Aye’s portrayal of the urban-rural divide in Thailand and the nostalgia Thana and Pop Aye’s travels evoke.
Thai Art Archives is an independent, not-for-profit « knowledge platform » for the recovery, study, preservation, and exhibition of Thai modern and contemporary art and ephemera.
Welcome to Thailand’s only heritage-preservation organization that actively identifies, collects, catalogues, preserves, and exhibits the historically valuable ephemera—professional documents, personal papers, photographs, notebooks, sketchbooks and other studio-based items—of Thailand’s renowned modern and contemporary artists, independent/artist-run (« alternative ») art spaces, and related Thai “avant-garde” phenomena.
Unlike primary works of art, such as painting and sculpture, comparatively “ephemeral” materials are frequently lost or destroyed on the passing of a prominent Thai artist, or even during her/his lifetime. Given this potential loss to Thai cultural heritage, the Thai Art Archives’ mission is to proactively identify, recover, study, document, and preserve such materials for the benefit of future generations.
Exhibitions (Modern & Contemporary)
Educational & Public Events/Programs
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Publications, Special Projects, Cataloguing
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The Thai Art Archives aims in all its programs to explore and enrich cultural exchange, to promote global access to transcultural histories, and to encourage regional and international dialogues over the research into, the writing, and the documentation of diverse perspectives on the most progressive currents in modern and contemporary art since the early 20th century to the present.
Podcast : Panel on Nicholas Farrelly’s « Thailand’s triple threat: culture, politics, and security », 30/06/2017, New Mandala
New Mandala co-founder Nicholas Farrelly joined an expert panel comprising Tyrell Haberkorn (ANU), Sunai Phasuk (Human Rights Watch), and John Blaxland (ANU) to discuss his paper, Thailand’s triple threat: culture, politics, and security, to be published by the Lowy Institute for International Affairs. The event was hosted by the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, and was moderated by the Lowy Institute’s Matthew Busch.
The Lowy Institute have made audio available via SoundCloud, which can be played below.
The literary advancement before the 1932 Revolution by Kittinun Klongyai, 04/07/2017, Prachatai
The 1932 Siamese Revolution was heralded in part by stories, novels and writing groups. The ideals of the People’s Party were nothing new, compared to movements that had already taken place in the literary field.
The 1930s in Thailand have been recognised as a time of change marking the transition from absolute monarchy to democracy, as well as the birth of the first constitution. But the power of writing was given to the people earlier than the power of self-rule. Works from the period are now, in some ways, memorial plaques of the literary revolution that contributed in turn to political revolt.
Preedee Hongsaton, a historian teaching at Thammasat University, told Prachatai that literature must not only entertain, but also reflect the intellect, values, and perspectives of society, conveying efforts to strive towards progress and equality.
During the 1930s, a number of writing groups such as « The Gentleman » or Khana Suphapburut rooted their works in the ideal of equality, just as the People’s Party or Khana Ratsadon stated in their manifesto that, “Everyone will have work to do. Everyone will have equal rights and be free from the slavery of the aristocrats”.
The works of Kularb Saipradit Sri Burapha, the head of Khana Suphapburut, for instance, center around love between classes. “A Real Man” or Luk Phu Chai (1928) stood out in particular as a novel preaching that people should be judged by their own deeds, rather than their family’s fame.
The writer Sri Burapha, a pen-name, deconstructed Thailand’s class system by depicting villains from noble families, showing a disjuncture between class and virtue. Sri Burapha, however, was also skeptical of trends from the Western world, and played with them critically.
Exhibition : Patani Semasa : Pameran Seni dari Patani, 19/07/2017 – 14/02/2018, MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum
An exhibition on contemporary art from the Golden Peninsula. Ranging from different time periods, works of art as well as cultural representations of the « Patani region » from 27 artists have been selected – both locals and those engaged with issues relevant to the area in question.