MAIIAM features the work of artists who have engaged with the politics of representation of Southern Thailand’s tumultuous Patani Region.
Art Radar has a more in-depth look at some of the works presented in “Patani Semasa” at MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum.
Patani is the geographical area known in modern-day Thailand as the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and parts of Songkhla. Patani is the subject of an exhibition at MAIIAM in Chiang Mai titled “Patani Semasa” that gathers 27 artists whose work has emerged from or is about the region. Through a wide variety of work that spans visual arts, photography, documentary, film, architecture and poetry, the region known variously as Thailand’s “deep-south” or the “Golden Peninsula” is rendered, contested and most of all visibilised not only as a region that contains the political tensions it has become famous for but also for the strength of its politicised creative art practices.
The political tension here refers to the emergence of a separatist insurgency movement in 2004, when resistance to Buddhist rule in the Muslim-majority region arose. More than 6500 people, most of them civilians, have died in separatist violence since. The artists, poets and filmmakers with ties to the region have responded in a variety of ways.
A large printed poem by Narathiwat poet Zakariya Amataya is the first work to greet the viewer. Zakariya Amataya is Thailand’s first Muslim recipient of the prestigious Southeast Asian Writers Award and has been making waves in the last five years with his politicised verses on anything from the oppressive economic policies across the world to the Muslim minority struggles in Palestine and the Patani region. Close by, photographs by Mumad Soray Deng captures Muslim daily life across the golden peninsula. His work Di Masjid Kreesek (2014/2017) hones in on the celebrations of a wedding ceremony.
In another exhibition room is an installation by renowned Thai conceptual artist Jakkai Siributr, who works in tapestry, installation and, most recently, photography. Across his decades long practice he has mixed and blended irreverently Buddhist, animist and vernacular references with secular and consumerist imagery, activating debates around political will, desire and national modes of production of subjectivity. The work displayed is entitled 78 – a reference to one of the region’s pivotal (and well mediatised) acts of government violence against the muslim minority. On 25 October 2004, a group of demonstrators gathered in front of a police station in the southern Thai town of Tak Bai. They were protesting the arrest of a small group of men who had reportedly stolen weapons to support the Muslim separatist movmenet.
When the police arrived they killed seven at the protest. The death of these seven protestors sparked a subsequent protest whose handling by the government and police forces led to the death of 78 people: 1300 protestors, overpowered by military personnel, were ordered to strip and crawl to nearby trucks where they were stacked and driven for hours to a military camp. 78 died en route. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra infamously claimed that the deaths occurred because their bodies were weak due to fasting for Ramadan and a number of revenge killings were carried out in the following months, including the beheading of a prominent Buddhist deputy police chief.
Jakkai Siributr’s 78 is an installation that is at both a memorial site for those who died at Tak Bai and a chilling evocation of the violence the 78 people were subjected to. The empty, cold and dark structure evokes the Nazi concentration camps, with visitors experiencing both claustrophobia and the absence of human bodies that were perhaps once there. Each of the bunks contains a Kurta – traditional Islamic clothing – which is numbered in Arabic script, from 1 to 78, while the names of the murdered are embroidered in Thai script in an Arabic style.
Other works also attempt to offer a different or slower perspective on the mediatized violence. In Suhaidee Sata Copia’s Violence (2016) the sculptor and painter renders a grenade in a stark red and black, a critique of the language of urgency that often confuses more sustainable readings of the politics of the reigon. Conceptual artist Pratchaya Phinthong presents an installation of small containers of chilli paste and a letter addressed to the colletive of women who make the paste. The artist made the work after hearing a radio report about an association led by women which produces chilli paste from local ingredients with the aim of gaining financial independence. Pratchaya Phinthong visited the association and made a homage in their name.
Nurulfirdaos Ding and Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh are united in their desire to represent on canvas the women who make up the persecuted Muslim community of the region. In Jehsorhoh’s The Beauty in the Dark Pattani (2011-2012), the painter renders two veiled women staring at each other. The surface is rendered impenetrable, an almost digital-like smoothening achieved through a repetitive pattern rendered carefully in acrylics on handmade paper that runs accross the surface of the image.
In Salwanee Hajisamae’s (b.1986Pattani) Wait of window (2012) employs an original technique – wax crayon grated on white clay filler – to depict a small crowd of veiled women gathered together. As the spectator’s gaze shifts down towards the bottom of the clay tiles, the bodies of the women become increasingly fragmented and ghostlike, leaving only the blacks of their eyes. In a repetition and emphasis on the look-back, the work challenges the stereotyped “passivity” often attributed to South Asian and Southeast Asian Muslim women. Keeta Isran’s The memory of shape to physical from (2014) has a similar effect in charcoal’s black and white.
“Patani Semasa” visibilises the work of the artists who have not only engaged with the tumultuous politics of Southern Thailand’s Patani Region, but contested, resisted and critiqued the country’s mainstream and governmental policies of popular representation.
“Patani Semasa” is on view from 19 July 2017 to 14 February 2018 at MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, 122, Moo 7 Tonpao Amphoe San Kamphaeng, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50130, Thailand.
- Critical art voices: “When Things Fall Apart” at Trapholt Museum, Denmark – in pictures – October 2016 – exhibition at Trapholt Museum brings postcolonial and decolonial critique to small Danish town of Kolding
- “Celebrating Murni”: life, legacy and memory of Indonesia’s IGAK Murniasih – September 2016 – Sudakara Art Space and Ketemu Project Space in Bali celebrate Murni’s groundbreaking artistic practice and the 50th anniversary of her birth
- Indonesian artist Nyoman Masriadi at Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York – in pictures – July 2016 – Nyoman Masriadi’s New York debut unveils his newest signature superhero characters
- Legends, ghosts and feminism: Malaysian artist Yee I-Lann at Tyler Rollins Fine Art – in pictures– July 2016 – in her latest exhibition, the Malay artist explores female power
- Burmese artist Htein Lin breaks free of censorship and prison – interview – May 2013 – Burmese artist Htein Lin opens up about creating art in prison, his battle against censorship and his anticipated return home to Myanmar
Subscribe to Art Radar for more on contemporary Thai artists