Democracy protests inspire Thai artists

Creative sit-in: Chalermpol posing in front of his artwork in a gallery at Lhong 1919 in Bangkok. AFP

WITH virtual reality goggles strapped on and controllers clasped in his hands, Thai artist Chalermpol Junrayab looks more like he’s doing a robot dance than creating political art.

Since July, rolling youth-led protests calling for democratic reforms have been a boon for the kingdom’s art scene, and 35-year-old Chalermpol is among a crop of creatives taking inspiration from the nation’s political mood.

Wearing his VR headset, he etches a student hanging from a tree – an infamous image from the 1976 student massacre at Bangkok’s Thammasat University that claimed at least 46 lives.

The phrase “Amazing Thailand”, drawn in block letters, looms over the gruesome scene – Chalermpol’s macabre twist on the kingdom’s tourism slogan.

“My goal is to make people feel amused through art and laugh along with it, ” he said, adding that his VR experiment would allow viewers to take a stroll through the scene, like being a gallery.

Apart from augmented reality, Chalermpol also reimagines famed graphic novel covers with Thai political figures as villains or heroes, though he insists his work is neutral.“It’s best to stick with what’s in the news. So it’s up to how each individual chooses to interpret it, ” he says.

Making headlines in Thailand at the moment are student protesters calling for a new constitution, reform of the untouchable monarchy, and for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha to resign.

The former military chief – who masterminded the 2014 coup – features prominently in Chalermpol’s art displayed at the Lhong 1919 gallery.

In one image, the embattled premier sports shades like a comic-book baddie and munches on a golden “People’s Plaque”, a pro-democracy symbol that has been harnessed by the youth movement.

Another shows bespectacled protest leader Anon Numpa with a Harry Potter-style striped scarf, wielding a wand as if defending himself from attackers.

Like Anon, some of the protest movement’s leading figures have been charged under Thailand’s tough royal defamation law, and scores of demonstrators face other serious charges, including sedition.

Protesters continue to gather across Bangkok, rallying alongside creatives selling satirical T-shirts, posters and symbol-laden art signalling the movement’s dissatisfaction with the status quo. — AFP

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