Healing hearts with art in southern Thailand

Soothe the soul: University students painting concrete pipe bunkers in the ‘safety zone’ of Yala’s Muang district. — The Nation/Asia News Network

Soothe the soul: University students painting concrete pipe bunkers in the ‘safety zone’ of Yala’s Muang district. — The Nation/Asia News Network

Yala (Thailand): With careful brush strokes and hope gleaming in their eyes, a group of youths and local artists have been camouflaging rows of concrete pipe bunkers in the “safety zone” of Yala’s Muang district with colourful patterns depicting stories about this province within the unrest-ridden region.

The 800-metre section of preventive walling on Ruammit Road – that would otherwise look intimidating, signifying underlying danger – has morphed into the beautiful canvases of artistic expression.

The project, operated by the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC)’s Yala branch through Muang Yala district and Nakhon Yala Municipality, aims to be completed by April 10, just in time for the Songkran festival from April 13 to 15.

“Earlier, when people walked past these bunkers, they looked over their shoulder out of fear and the atmosphere was unpleasant. So we wanted to have these bunkers covered with colourful patterns and pictures, hence softening the atmosphere so people feel more at ease,” said Panu Uthairat, SBPAC’s secretary-general.

A deeper hope for this project is these paintings will represent local people’s wish for peace and their desire to welcome guests, Panu added.

“Hopefully this positive gesture will lead to people expressing their objection to violence and unrest. These paintings intend to depict good and beautiful things of Yala and aim to boost the atmosphere, heal traumatised hearts and restore public confidence,” he added.

The project to paint cement bunkers with thematic images follows a previously successful project dubbed Southern Border’s Colourful New Year in January, when buildings in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces were painted with vivid colours.

Muang Yala district chief Kongsakul Chantharat said that the provincial governor had come up with the idea and proposed it to SBPAC. He also earmarked 300,000 baht (RM32,977) for the project.

The different parties including Yala Rajabhat University, the Educational Area Office, municipal schools and local artists as well as residents were brought together to learn about the project’s objectives – and they, in turn, offered to cooperate.

“Many images depict good things about Yala such as hornbills and other attractions. Moreover, what people want to see is the ugly concrete bunkers being turned into something vivid and beautiful,” he said.

In the future, Ruammit Road will be turned into a walking street if local residents agree, Kongsakul said, adding the area was marked “safety zone” because there have been no violent attacks over four years. Asked if the art works are in line with healing the traumatised hearts of people in the region, Kongsakul said the project aimed to use art therapy to heal people. — The Nation/Asia News Network