Faces of disappeared activists are painted on a denim shirt while, elsewhere, a golden statue replaces the Democracy Monument’s constitution amid a dystopian sci-fi scene. In another corner, an amulet inscribed with the Red Bull logo sits on a wooden stand beside a submarine bearing PM Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s likeness.
More than 200 works submitted by as many professional and amateur artists make cutting and current assaults on power and dictatorship at Unmuted Project, an exhibition that opened Saturday in the unlikely venue of a Thonglor garden.
The idea of the exhibition, which ends Saturday, was sparked by the creativity that’s been a hallmark of recent pro-democracy rallies, where protestors have wielded pop culture themes ranging from Thai horror comedy Hor Taew Taek to Japanese cartoon Hamtaro and boy wizard Harry Potter.
“I see the creative diversity of the rallies. The sky’s limit. So I thought of throwing an art exhibition where everyone, not necessarily an activist, is able to participate,” said the Unmuted Project organizer, who would only identify himself as Phawonphat.
Raising the idea on Thailand’s favorite platform for anti-authoritarianism – Twitter – Phawonphat’s call for submissions was retweeted more than 5,000 times within hours of posting.
“We don’t need to wait for any activist leader to host a flash mob that we can join. We can start doing something right away and experiment along with it,” Phawonphat said. The fourth-year university student said it is his first time organizing an event aimed at bringing down the military government.
“My objective is to provide a space where anyone can add their voice, equally. At the exhibition, we don’t name the artists because we want people to only view the work without any other factors. You can like the art, or you just don’t have to.”
After calling for submissions for a month, Phawonphat said he fielded entries from more than 300 people. Only 200 were selected for the show, not for their lack of appeal but rather to “keep it within the line of the law,” a euphemism for not violating Section 112, the draconian lese majeste which could see artists or the curator jailed for years.
Still, provocation abounds. One framed graphic, The Beastle, shows four characters – one in military uniform and another in mini tank-top – standing in for The Beatles traversing Abbey Road’s zebra crossing. It’s placed next to a Red Bull bottle holding incense before a photo of incense offered to a photo of the Democracy Monument, hearkening to a worship of persistent double standards.
That type of content meant inevitable obstacles such as finding a willing gallery – the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre turned him down – and having to “coordinate” with intrusive local authorities. The garden sits next to the Pridi Banomyong Center, dedicated to a hero of Thai democracy, on land owned by a memorial foundation for a past socially progressive artist. Since the exhibition opened, police officers have taken up positions inside and outside the garden venue. They say they’re there to “ensure the safety” of attendees and organizers.
Apart from the art on display, the event’s program includes a Tuesday afternoon panel discussion, book giveaway and stage play. On Saturday, banned documentary Boundary, on Thai-Cambodia border conflict and 2010 Redshirt protests by Thai filmmaker Nontawat Numbenchapol will screen. The film in 2013 met with government censorship in which officials cited it to be “a threat to national security and international relations.”
Unmuted Project is open 11am to 6pm and runs until Saturday at the Angoon Malik Garden. The space, built to honor Angoon Malik, aka “Grandma Puppet,” is located at Soi Thonglor 3, a five-minute walk from BTS Thong Lo’s exit No. 3.
This article, Pop-up art against dictatorship? ‘Unmuted Project’ opens a cultural front in Thonglor, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!