Despite there seem to be less protests in the streets, the unease about repression and lack of freedom of speech and political participation in Thailand is manifested by artists and the young.
International news agencies have shifted their focus from Thailand to rallies in Myanmar, but the conflict and the fight to reduce the royal and military power in Thailand continue. Artists reflect through their artworks a social movement that does not cease. International media have pointed out the creativity the Thai youth has shown to appropriate popular symbols -like the Hunger Games-Fingers, Harry Potter-costumed parallels, inflatable rubber ducks or Hong Kong-umbrellas- to criticize Thailand’s government and to resist police operations. But to sustain and resist over time in order to implement mechanisms to democratize and ensure fundamental rights in the current context is a complex task. We have the chance to get the perspective of Seepuan (Jump) Tassakorn, a Thai performance artist.
Mr. Tassakorn, how old are you, what kind of art do you practice and how did you get involved in the protests?
I'm a 27-year-old artist who graduated from Silpakorn University, majoring in Drama, definitely, I’ve been surrounded by theatre and performance. After finishing education, I have been interested in sociology, linguistics and politics, always questioning society about radical issues through my artistic practice for nearly 10 years. Now, I am practising and exploring art in the field of multidisciplinary, plus in this whole year I was selected by SEAD, a collaborative program between Mekong Cultural Hub and British Council, to create an interactive sculpture named Leverage as a Thailand practitioner artist.
As above, I’ve been always interested in sociology and also I strongly believe that art contribution has a power to change the world more or less, in that time Lanyim Theatre, Chiang Mai art troupe, invited me to join protests, therefore, I became a resistant performance artist at Thapae Gate, Chiang Mai since August 2020. For my art pieces in protest, I chose numerous materials to expand social awareness, motivate people thought e.g. badges, toy guns, red thread, local food in a plastic cup, Chi-Chi sticks, torch and etc. as you can probably see my performance photo on social media, especially the masterpiece, Black suit with military gun blindfold.
Music, fine arts, and performance arts have accompanied the protests in Thailand from the very start. Some became hits, like Rap Against Dictatorship, and made it into the global news. What songs, images, sayings and jokes are currently circulating regarding the struggle against royals and militarization of society?
I think parody on sacred symbols of militarization and royal gains popularity now as you can see on social media; constitution with a print of military uniform, victory monument surrounded with soldiers hurting protester statue, or the Royal Commemorative Arch that is broken or burning, etc. These examples of images have been circulating online and shared rapidly. Personally, I think it is useful to activate other people on social media and also to spread awareness more worldwide. Moreover, at this present time, we can’t deny that the way superstars or singers who call out, has much impact on the whole country, like Ammy The Bottom Blues who just burnt the frame of the royal king’s photo and remains in jail now. This movement always raises our common goal. Plus, it will be more effective if there are more celebrities or influencers who represent themself, show their standpoint and create an action to the public, as same as resistance artists, and also everyone here.
The legitimacy of the Thai government is currently at stake. What images and signs do you find important now to remind people of their common goals?
I think there are numerous images and signs that everyone uses as a symbol in a protest. We have common goals so many kinds of methods and equipment are acceptable. But if you really want me to pick up some of them, they might be anything referred to as democracy, e.g. Monument of the Constitution or justice poiser in the court. This is to remind us that we need a judiciary system to govern the country. We need a legitimate constitution that initiates from our voices, not from the military. We need no coup and we don’t need an arbitrary power used by elite leaders, therefore, the constitution should be written by all the people who live in the country. And the Monument of Constitution can be one of the practical reminders for us all.
Do you find inspiration in the way the very young, like high school students, rebel not only against the institutions but also against the fears of their parents?
Personally, I think humans are not born in a cage, we also want nearly 100 percent of freedom. Due to social norms, living rules are created. As a consequence, if those rules that originated from the eldered are unreasonable, the very young people will definitely question them, call for the answer and resist gradually. I found these movements had more impact on me and artists in Thailand, as well as worldwide. This gives much energy to create shrewder works. To illustrate, a few years ago there was a taboo when we tried to mention institutions. Fortunately, nowadays it can be discussed publicly and I feel like that top-down authority power has fallen, this is why everyone especially, the younger rebel against any kind of dictatorship, from monarchy institutions to negotiation in their small family. Moreover, for my practice and art pieces, I have no need to use some artistic element of eloquence to communicate my message, I can say a word frankly and more straightforwardly.
Art institutions, galleries and art dealers are facing hard times now, not only due to the pandemic, economic uncertainty and political pressure. But the times of rebellion are often a fruitful period that allows outstanding works of art to be made. How do you perceive curators are moving through this situation?
I found these situations challenging for the art section because art has its own character, progressive and oppressive. The more this government tries to restrict freedom of expression, the more artists try to combat the repression. Therefore, I think all of the people who are in art institutions, galleries and art dealers, are enthusiastic and didn’t take this time as an obstacle to represent their work. On the contrary, this motivates them to create more work and deal with other difficulties themselves. One thing that I think all artists agree on are the need for a revolution in politics. If the political system is improved for the better, then other life living problems, like economic uncertainty, will also be alleviated.
What kind of opportunities do you see for yourself in this context? What strategies do you consider feasible for you, as an artist in the current circumstances?
There are still opportunities for the people who want it, it depends on what kind of. If we talk about grants for artists in the country, I agree that in Thailand there is less support by the government, art advocacy and council. Normally, Thai artists will receive grants from abroad. It will be effective if we can request some budget or any kind of support from our own leaders. For myself, since I had joined the protest, I am able to seek opportunities example I was sitting and drinking coffee in the morning but in the afternoon I can receive some budget from my anonymous friend to create an art piece, moreover, I also sent a proposal to South East Asia organization and was selected to create works related to inequality, finally, I can perform my work Leverage on the 19th and 20th of March at Unidentified Theater, Nan. These chronological sequences came after I showed my attitude and standpoint towards the protest. Furthermore, I feel appreciated and enthusiastic to do the next project which is supported by everyone in the country.
One more thing: my strategy is to spread awareness worldly and seek a safe space to let both sides come together, sit and talk in a civilized way. My next 10 years is to penetrate the construction of dictatorship and use art contribution to gradually resolve deep-rooted conflict and problem, like I said that I think art can make a change to the society, although the revolution is going to happen and change Thailand’s scenario, dictatorship offsprings or leftovers still remain and that is way more challenging to use Art to deal with it.
Can you point out differences between the artists involved in protests in Chiang Mai and Bangkok?
I participated in protests only in Chiang Mai but also followed the news from Bangkok because my friends went there. Although Thai protesters already had a consensus, there are some differences I point out. The first one is collective strength, I found that Bangkok is stronger and more powerful than ChiangMai, this absolutely initiated from the power of centralization, people usually went to the capital city to call out for their rights and for what they want, instead of the rally to the suburb. The second thing I found is that protest in Chiang Mai is more vivacious than in Bangkok, and artists have more freedom to do whatever they want. This probably came from characteristics of the city landscape, leading people to think out of the box and not always raise issues in the mainstream. Plus, because some protest leaders are Chiang Mai University students so they didn’t fight against only the government or monarchy institute, but also university institutes, Dean and administrative boards. Nevertheless, both protests in Bangkok and Chiang Mai still have a similarity in their cross-border connection. They are in continuous exchange, some are experienced activists, some are apprentices. We are all the same, having our common goals, fighting for what we want in our own individual ways.