Protest Art: Creativity boosts Thailand’s pro-democracy movement

Poncho-clad protesters ride rubber ducks, a protest symbol. Others put on theatrical makeup and wings to pose as an angel. Students on stage dress as dinosaurs or perform covers of Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You as symbols of democracy flash on screen.

Creativity has given color to the protest movement, with art and ideas on display each week taking on Thailand’s art world as well – a bastion for elites and symbol of the feudal-like system the protestors are hoping to dismantle.

“In Thailand, the art scene is run by elite old men, nearly all conservative. Before I was a lonely minority, but now all of the young artists have turned radical… doing art, performing music, designing posters,” Thai artist and activist Mit Jai Inn told The Art Newspaper in September. 

The same cheeky streak on display in the streets has also spread online.

Many creatives have turned to social media to speak their minds and lend their support for the movement through edgy and evocative protest art. In the process, some of them have gone viral or seen their fan bases boom, an example of the way social media’s egalitarian nature can disrupt traditional power structures in the art world as well as politics. 

Here are six accounts (of many) driving the conversation online, with the artists’ anonymity maintained at their request.

Pssyppl

Photo: Pssyppl / Instagram
Photo: Pssyppl / Instagram

This fast-emerging artist and designer; who produces dark, largely satirical digital paintings that reflect the burning issues of the day; says he is “trying to break down the wall of absurd culture and restriction, which are currently blocking the unlimited ideas of art and design.” In doing so, he hopes to push Thailand’s art scene to reach its full potential. 

“My digital artwork focuses on events that are happening around me – events that leave me with a certain feeling inside my head, and then that feeling is molded and visualized in a sarcastic way through digital paintings. The reason I did these pieces is because of anger – anger that I cannot say anything or do anything to resist this corrupt system [that rules Thailand]. Art is my only way to express this smoldering emotion inside my mind.”

Thaipface

Photo: Thaipface / Instagram
Photo: Thaipface / Instagram

Thaipface is a virtual sketchbook by seven Thai creatives, who explore their relationship with the motherland while celebrating the Thai alphabet. From animating letters to reimagining their traditional forms, they visually spark dialogue about social justice and contemporary issues in today’s cultural climate – consider it a playground for experimenting with typography and pushing design in an industry that’s largely client-focused.

“Thaipface was created for moments like this. At this point, we are either all in or not at all. The ongoing challenges and issues of democracy bring with it movements that reveal years and years of our blind obedience to an ambiguous system. We are using our work to reclaim that stolen space of openness where it is encouraged and safe to question, critique, be vulnerable, contribute one’s talent, and grow as a community with transparency. It is time for all of us to get more involved with dreaming up a more inclusive future for our country.”

Sally Creates Things

Photo: Sallycreatesthings / Instagram
Photo: Sallycreatesthings / Instagram

This full-time designer saw her Instagram page gain several thousand followers almost overnight as the protests heated up in October. Using a style she describes as “organic, humorous, and based on storytelling,” she aims to raise awareness of social issues through hand-drawn illustrations that feature carefully selected color schemes. 

“I started making these political illustrations to raise awareness about what is happening in Thailand through art. I keep them vague and playful, not targeting anyone specifically. At first, there wasn’t much of a response to my work, but as I kept creating, it began to pick up. [In October], my illustrations received over 200,000 impressions in a matter of four days. People seem to really enjoy my work, and I’m grateful for everyone supporting it. This keeps me motivated to create more artwork and bring some humor to these dark situations.”

Nakrob Moonmanas

Photo: Nakrob Moonmanas the Collagist / Facebook
Photo: Nakrob Moonmanas the Collagist / Facebook

Thanks to his unique spin on digital collage, this 30-year-old collage artist has seen his star rise in the art world. Nakrob says he reflects his “love-hate relationship with his own roots” by seamlessly blending existing artwork with local – and often outlandish – fragments of history and visual culture. Think John Everett Millais’ “Ophelia” plastered with characters from the Ramakien. His works have been exhibited at the BACC and the Seoul Museum of History. In 2020, he was selected for a residency at Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris. 

“I’m now during my residency far away from my hometown, but my heart is in solidarity with all my friends back home. Making art is how I can support and encourage [the protest movement]. I lose some followers on social media every time I publish political pieces, but that’s fine. Art is always free – a safe space – and we’ll never accept anyone trying to change this.”

WTF Political

Photo: wtf_political / Instagram
Photo: wtf_political / Instagram

A curator for Silpakorn University and full-time artist, WTF Political produces arresting, jagged sketches that seem to shout more than speak about contemporary political issues. “Politics, along with art, have stuck with me since day one,” he says of his motivations. Some of his work was recently featured at WTF Bar and Gallery (no affiliation).  

“I feel like everything is confusing in Thai society. There’s just no transparency,” he said. “So it begs the questions: ‘What’s real? What’s true?’ What I try to do with my Instagram page is convey political messages through art, kind of like a political cartoon… and make the viewers question what’s real. My work also reflects how atrocious and horrid our society can be. I have always created textual art about politics, whether it be current events or significant moments in the past, combined with a bit of satire. Without the protests, I would have continued to make this kind of art with the same messages anyway. My art isn’t the magnet that attracts the protestors – the art only follows the movement.”

Baphoboy

Photo: Baphoboy / Instagram
Photo: Baphoboy / Instagram

This 25-year-old artist and current army recruit – Baphoboy says he never enrolled in three-year ROTC training and had to enlist to fulfill his mandatory service – has blown up social media. Drawing his nom de guerre from Baphomet, an occult figure he says was chastised for having his own beliefs (“similar to me,” he says), Baphoboy has gained fame and praise for his edgy artwork. In his pieces, he touches on everything from university hazing rituals to the army’s role in the Thammasat Massacre.  

“As a guy who is really defiant, I would often question things happening around me. When I got into university, for example, rules like SOTUS (seniority, order, tradition, unity, spirit) would get under my skin, so I knew I needed to make art to channel the frustrations I had in my mind,” he said. “Politics doesn’t always have to mean ‘news,’ and it doesn’t always have to be serious. I hope to make the protest-related context more widespread, so more people can understand what’s going on. [I try to] add elements of surprise so that it’s more light-hearted and fun. Some people might be even more interested in the art than the protests or politics. Who knows?”

This story originally appeared in BK.

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