Nearly five months after his removal from power the spectre of former Prime Minister Thaksin remains, sadly, front of mind. His rather absurd attempts to portray himself as the “great democrat” to the world’s media are almost as pathetic as those same media’s willingness to listen to him. In welcoming a new artist, Prasart Nirandonprasert, to artThailand, we also have an opportunity to celebrate Artists for Democracy, a small but important anti-Thaksin pressure group that participated in the pro-democracy protests of 2006.
Prasart Nirandonprasert was born in 1968, in Khon Khaen, which is in the north of Thailand.
Trained initially as an architect, Prasart is today better known as a painter and sculptor.
His current medium of choice is woodcut prints. He is the first woodcut artist that we have worked with.
Most of his prints are limited editions of between two and five pieces. At an average price of 7,500 baht they represent a very cheap means of owning some interesting and beautiful Thai contemporary art.
The woodcuts are exquisitely sculpted from raw wood. Prasart then mixes a wide variety of inks to produce bold and interesting colors.
Like many Thai artists, Prasart’s inspiration are drawn from Buddhism.
As he puts it himself, “The living of life is to find truth”.
Personally I like Prasart’s work. It’s simple, technically skilled, with imaginative use of color and imagery.
However, as some of you know, I am personally drawn to art that carries political and/or social messages.
It has always interested me that some of the most powerful art and literature has thrived in times and places of adversity.
For me the most obvious example would be the Nazi Degenerate Art movement.
In 1937, Nazi officials purged German museums of works the Party considered to be degenerate. From the thousands of works removed, 650 were chosen for a special exhibit of Entartete Kunst.
The exhibit opened in Munich and then traveled to eleven other cities in Germany and Austria.
In each installation, the works were poorly hung and surrounded by graffiti and hand written labels mocking the artists and their creations.
Many of the artists included in the Entartete Kunst exhibition are now considered masters of the twentieth century. They include Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Edvard Munch, Paul Klee, Ernst Kirchner and Emil Nolde.
Now Thailand is not the Germany of the 1930s but we have been through several years of political struggle, a struggle that will likely continue for some time yet.
What interests me most about Prasart is the role he played in the Artists for Democracy movement of 2006 and the anti-Thaksin woodcuts he produced at that time.
In the print above, Thaksin’s face lies in the background. He “Betrayed his mother land….”.
To the right is Thaksinipatri or, literally, “Thaksin is democracy”. As Prasart puts it, Thaksin installed his own people into all key positions and removed anyone who disagreed with him.
Artists for Democracy was a small collective of Thai artists that participated in the anti-Thaksin protests of 2006. Prasat himself went to many of the protests and, together with his colleagues, produced a number of prints in criticism of the then Prime Minister.
The name “Artists for Democracy” is interesting in itself. If you read recent editions of The Economist or Time you get the impression that Thaksin, a “great democrat”, was removed from power by an anti-democratic military dictatorship.
Yes, Thaksin and his party were democratically elected but his abuse of power and of the 1997 constitution are comparable to the actions of President Chavez of Venuezela. Democratically elected maybe, but no democrat for sure.
The title of this print is Poo Nam Pee 2548 or “Leader of the year, 2005″. In Prasart’s words, “he is a god and no one can touch him”.
Artists for Democracy reminds us that the struggles of 2006 were about Mr. Thaksin, not about democracy. They remind us that whetever the future for Thailand, it needs to be a democratic future, but a democracy that is real rather than a sham.
Prasart’s political activism and his expression of that activism in his prints is fascinating to me. His work becomes almost cartoon-like, in the tradition of some of the very best political cartoonists.