Young Bloods Episode 02: Bangkok
THESE YOUNG THAI CREATORS ARE SPEARHEADING SELF-EXPRESSION DESPITE POLITICAL UPHEAVAL.
On March 24, Thailand went to the polls to elect a new government — the nation's first elections since 2014, when the military overthrew democratically-elected leaders for the twelfth time since 1932. The party keeping the military in power claimed victory in the popular vote, despite calls of voting irregularities and the fact that official results won’t be released until May 9.
Military rule is not new in Thailand, but how it seeks to preserve traditional Thai culture by strict rules and censorship is increasingly at loggerheads with modern society – and specifically, with a new guard of millennials demanding free expression and democracy. Educated abroad and well-traveled, they envision a Thailand that marries old and new.
This environment hasn't deflated Bangkok's arts scene, but rather helped fuel its explosion. In the years since the latest coup, countless studios, design rooms, galleries and arts spaces have emerged, particularly in Chinatown, where cosmopolitans imbibe and converse about art and politics until dawn.
LURE partnered with Speedy Grandma, the gallery that pioneered a new wave of contemporary art galleries in Bangkok, and Bangkok-based photographer Graham Meyer, to profile young creatives whose work explores the boundaries of self-expression under censorship.
In May 2010, Harit Srikhao, then 15 years old, was caught outside during an anti-government and military face-off that resulted in almost 100 deaths and thousands of injuries.
Years later, streets filled with smoke from burning tires and mass confusion of passersby inspired Harit's first photo series, 2012's Red Dream, a reimagining of that fateful night through documentary and photocollage.
“It was therapy,” he explains. “But when I started to research what was happening in the political landscape of my country, the truth was completely different from what I used to believe.”
Subsequent series that sought to explore fact and fiction in Thai collective memory have earned him both international praise and domestic abuse: The military has banned some of his works from gallery walls, turning Harit into an unexpected symbol of anti-oppression in Thailand.
Read Harit's story here.
Since taking power in 2014, "immoral behavior" has also been in the crosshairs of Thailand's military government. That's put particular strain on Bangkok's nightlife, where curfews, raids, club closures and even stop-and-frisks are now commonplace.
It's proved good motivation for 26-year-old DJ and event organizer Korn Varasarin. His DJ collective MELA, founded in 2017, began holding daytime parties to avoid police shutdowns.
The restrictions have given way to new soundscapes: DJ Korn pushes the boundaries of traditional beats by adapting classic Thai melodies and instruments to Western club music. Sets feature artists and musicians collaborating, signaling a new era of performance in Bangkok.
Read Korn's story here.
If anyone embodies the performative spirit of modern Bangkok, it's self-described postgender drag and visual artist Nuh Peace.
The performer's trademark black lipstick and chain links harken back to his days trouncing around New York City's punk and goth scenes after turbulent years spent as a queer exchange student in America’s Deep South.
Out of the hardship came the desire to provoke and inspire. Back in Bangkok, Nuh Peace began assembling fashion shows celebrating punk and rave subcultures in shopping malls and posing for disruptive photo shoots in supermarkets — performance art that was allowed to take place because of Thai culture's propensity to be polite and avoid confrontation.
“It’s about accepting other cultures and diversity, especially with this internet culture [where] everyone is so mean to each other," he says.
Read Nuh’s story here.
Plern Pan Perth
Reverent of the past, conscious of the present, creating for the future: These are the dreamy synths, pop production and Lao melodies of musician Thanat "Pete" Rasanon's project Plern Pan Perth.
"It's a melting pot of different cultures, so Thai is not Thai in a sense," says the experimental musician.
Rasanon's music draws inspiration from his heritage as a child of Bangkok, but also the internet. In one track, traditional Thai wind instruments are modulated and spliced together with Lao verses to convey his grandmother’s trauma at the hands of nationalism, the artist explains.
Read Plern Pan Perth’s story here.