They’re close friends since decades. Former senator Kraisak Choonhavan, one of the most ferocious critics of Thaksin, who needs no introduction. As shouldn’t Vasan Sitthiket, artist, activist and enfant terrible – one of the few Thai artists who’s collected. They met at the opening of Vasan’s exhibit Capitalism is Dying! at Thavibu Gallery. absolutely Bangkok spoke with both of them.
About rage, political humiliation, hope. Because that is what they have in common, the good friends. Anger, disillusion, lost hope. While Kraisak’s weapons are words, Vasan’s are his angry, controversial paintings, with the brush applied in “short, raw dabs of paint,” as the exhibit’s curator Steven Pettifor, a driving force behind Bangkok’s contemporary art scene, writes in the exhibit’s booklet.
“I paint like this because this world is rude, capitalism is cruel and how we are treating mother nature,” Vasan told aB.com. “My work is very provocative, I make people think again.” Provocative is only the first name it seems. After the exhibit, while studying the booklet in the skytrain, a cute girl nearby blushed. No wonder. She had peeked over my shoulder. What she saw? Expressive sexuality:
“Vasan regularly reverts to sexually explicit symbolism as an extreme visual apparatus that has certain shock value, especially with Thailand’s more conservative art audiences,” Pettifor writes in the essay. “Sex is rarely visualised as a act of mutual pleasure. In Vasan’s art congressional acts are applied aggressively as a analogy for suppression, violence and particularly rape.”
During the opening Vasan told me: “My family inspires me. They’re farmers and I think why are they still poor, why more and more people fall.” If he’s angry all the time? “Maybe,” he says. “Maybe.” Explains Pettifor: “As with Vasan’s summations of capitalists as the evil wrongdoers and the lowly people as the undeserving victims, (Thailand’s political) red and yellow divisions have been drawn along similar lines, with the yellows supposedly representing those championing democracy, while the reds are portrayed as capitalist-leaning supporters of Thaksin.”
“Yet the yin-yang nature of good versus evil is not so transparent here,” writes Pettifor – and that’s where Kraisak comes in. As Vasan Kraisak’s a former and by now disillusioned supporter of the yellow cause. But while Vasan capitalizes on his anger – a painting goes for 200,000 baht and you’ll even find him at New York’s Museum of Modern Art -, Kraisak is the intellectual, the diplomat. But he seems to have grown older, seems weaker. Last time I met Kraisak at a southern Thai beach I had met another, visible more younger man.
Here’s the little talk we had at Thavibu Gallery:
That’s some pretty rough art, Khun Kraisak.
Well, Vasan is one of the first very political and controversial artists in Thailand. He’s pretty straight forward. And he’s pretty much committed. He sees himself on the people’s side, against injustice and abuses. He doesn’t hesitate to provoke with direct actions.
Is he carrying the banner of any of the political colors dividing the kingdom?
He has been on the yellow stage, sort of, but got a bit disillusioned.
Are you disillusioned?
Well, every movement has its flaws, because this one is a bit too conservative, and they call it new politics!
Maybe there’s a way out, isn’t Prime Minister Abhisit reaching out?
He has overly reached out, but the reaction from the opposition party is very disappointing. They even identify themselves in parliament with the red shirts. Considering what the red shirts represent, the protection of Mr. Thaksin, they do not return the handshake.
That is very dangerous. And discouraging. The country cannot afford another round of violence. The weather becomes too hot. Hot tempered people, you know.
What will Thaksin do next?
He will continue to claim that he’s persecuted by the coup makers, but he never once tried to defend himself in court. His family did, his wife and children, but when he was convicted he got very angry. And even his two nominee governments could not stand up to the legal test.
But weren’t those rather bizarre court actions that forced those two governments out of office? Maybe Mr. Thaksin doesn’t want to play along with judicial double standards? And maybe those two governments were too polite with the yellows?
They failed in court. And Samak was multiply charged and they got him with cooking. As a prime minister, you cannot sell products as a cook in a TV show. He was not only cooking, but selling.
Will the Democrat party be dissolved?
If the Election Commission finds the party guilty of illegally receiving money, yes.
So we better prepare for another round of the same?
I’m very concerned about Thailand. Thailand passed through a democratically elected government that turned out to be a regime.
It’s not the Land of the Free anymore?
You can’t take things to extremities. Thailand was always a country where extremity cannot exist. Usually. We’ve never seen such a persistent politician like Thaksin. Normally once the game is over you get out of politics. His desire to have control over everybody in Thailand amazes me. We never had such a monopolistic force.
What should Abhisit do next?
He’s on the right track with his soft approach and his upholding of the value of the human life. I thought first there will be a bloody suppression. As it turned out we did not find evidence of deaths.
You cannot talk of amnesty right away. Which cases? And for whom?
Some works of Vasan Sitthiket, whose exhibit Capitalism is Dying! is open until May 17th, 2009, at Thavibu Gallery: