In a culture where scenes of sexual assault are misrepresented on TV soaps as displays of love, and sex-ed taught in school is filled with lectures on abstinence, the exhibition happening at Bangkok Art & Culture Center urges people talk about a topic that is not brought up often enough in Thailand — consent.
To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, horrific, yet common Facebook comments made to sexual assault victims such as “Why make it such a big deal?” and “Why were you alone with him?” have been printed out and displayed at the new Till It Happens to You exhibition, an attempt to reflect how desperately Thailand needs to rid itself of a rape culture that routinely blames the victim.
“We feel that Thai people don’t have a healthy perception about sex, which affects not only their relationships, but when it comes to sexual assaults, their fear of speaking out. There’s also a stigma attached to the victims, which make the them hesitate to fight for their justice,” said Didtita Simcharoen, one of the organizers. The exhibition is dedicated to a friend of the curators who was assaulted.
Walking into the display, illustrations and text stories of people’s sexual experiences are hung on the walls. From stories of rape victims who shared their past for closure, to anecdotes of men and women who finally came to terms with their sexual preferences, they touch on aspects of sex in Thailand in different ways.
I always thought I wouldn’t have sex until marriage, but something made me want to try it. I didn’t resist him. It hurt, and I told him to stop. He was frustrated but agreed. After that, I researched on how to not feel pain during sex, but there was not much information in Thai.
I found a ‘PR job’ in Singapore. They said I could make a hundred thousand baht and bring the money back to Thailand. So I thought if I had money, I wouldn’t have to worry about my tuition… I met a Singaporean guy who spoke perfect Thai. Even though I was not a talkative person, he tried to talk to me. He was so nice, but I didn’t feel anything special with him.
He pushed me to the bed. I begged him to stop, but he wouldn’t let me go. I tried to fight him. I kicked him away, but he punched me in the stomach. He lifted up my skirt and had sex with me.
I couldn’t tell anyone. The world had turned dark. When I found my strength, I escaped. I acted normal because I couldn’t tell anyone. I was ashamed that I was duped.
I finished the job and came back to Thailand, with less than a hundred thousand baht. My mom later found out what I did in Singapore, although my two sisters had told her that I was a prostitute Bangkok.
I’d never had a boyfriend or touched a man while all of my friends had done it. A host took us to our table and someone told me if we wanted male escorts to come sit with us. We said yes.
He told me he’d feed me a candy. Then he put the candy between his lips and kissed me. I could taste the candy. I could hear the sound of him biting on the candy that he put in my mouth through his tongue.
[When we were leaving], he asked me for my LINE ID, but I wanted it to end there. Either way, I was impressed with my first kiss that I had to pay a lot of money for.
Another part of the exhibition is three sets of eerie photographs that illustrates the dark, deep thoughts that often occur after a person is sexually assaulted.
“In photography, there’s not a lot of artwork that illustrates stories of sexual assault through symbols. We mostly see that in forms of text, as in people holding up signs with messages,” photographer Varuth Pongsapipatt said.
“There should be abstract art that tells these stories… the issues of our society. I used symbols because they convey the ideas without language barriers.”
Organizer Didtita models for the photos under the name “Witch Hunt.”
One of the sets compares victim blaming to witch hunts in the Middle Ages, saying the victims become social pariahs when they speak out for justice.
“The photos reflect that speaking out about their sexual assault may actually be worse than the assault itself. In the the Middle Ages, the witch hunters targeted non-conforming, knowledgeable women.
“It turns out the victim is seen as at fault, as if she was a witch… a sinful person that shakes up the society.”
Children in Thailand commonly bestow flower garlands as a gift to their parents. Due to high records of domestic assaults, the garland on fire questions whether the family institution is burning down.
The exhibition can be viewed daily until Sunday. This Friday, the venue will also screen The Hunting Ground, a documentary on sexual assaults in elite universities in the U.S. The screening will start at 4:30pm and be followed by a discussion at 6:20pm.
Check out the Till It Happens to You Facebook page for details of the event.
Bangkok Art & Culture Center