Muzzling Expression: of creative insights among the unsilenced desire

Chiangmai is the perfect destination for Thai artists and those who love art, because of the beauty, the atmosphere and the architectural impressions. They who crave for freedom of expression, would choose this city, the province. I managed to experience the sights and sound of the small gatherings in this ancient city.

And because of the artistic moods, many in Chiangmai tend to have very independent thoughts, far different from the mainstream ideas of Bangkok.

Solemn expression, a young man in Chiangmai

Questioning society through arts are the key tools that they took to protest and show their disagreement on this latest coup coup d'etat.

They don't care whether they will get any attention from any media. The only thing that they do care is how to react towards this situation, to show what they really feel.

After the declaration of martial law, followed by the coup, Chiangmai was and still is seen as the city of the resistance. The people are not passive. They conducted many symbolic activities such as lighting of candles for peace and justice, in parallel to the peaceful protests in Bangkok.

University students engaging in a peaceful gathering of self-expression (Young woman in red top requested a symbolic shading of her eyes)

"Larn Thapae" is a multi-purpose field, while Larn means empty area. The place is crowded with an eclectic mix of art by artists who wanted to show their work, where they bring ideas of arts and creativity to display, and to share. But now it has become a show of military propaganda, in line with their "Bring back Happiness" campaign.

It all started when student from the Chiangmai University who was at Thapae, during the early days of the martial law, standing with boots on his head. As far as I know this guy was the very first and only person who used this kind of symbolic protest. Needless to say what was the meaning of this action.

On the following day at Thapae, a number of arts students from the university held another symbolic gathering by dressing in Thai national costumes, while reading books with anti-coup flavour and taking photos with the soldiers. This is their way to defy, and protest the martial laws by using the "Thainess" at playing against the conservative military regime.

The land of smiles, the state of rejecting repression 
Signs: "I can't bear it any more." and "I will not bow my head to a dictator."


The next activity was led by an arts professor at the very same area. It was just a normal exercise activity, with an exercise machine and played it in front of the soldiers that were guarding the area.

They also lifted a mortar, a Thai traditional kitchen tool.

"These activities are to make the soldiers confuse. They will see us and cannot do a thing; they cannot forbid us to exercise nor using force to disperse us." the professor who led the activity said "To ask how it can be an anti-coup protest it’s the matter of how you look. The purpose here is to exercise our mind and body to be strong so we can go fight with the dictator’s power and the mortar things is to break the pattern of activity and make it more fantasy."

Another activity parallel to the mortar lifting is to blow at a pestle. There is an old Thai idiom that says "Silence like blowing a pestle" which means silence, as blowing at the pestle cannot make any sound. This was done by 2-3 people, a ridicule towards society and the regime that they were trying to shut the mouths of the people.

There were also musical performances with anti-coup signs displayed during the show. But the soldiers came and tore the signs in plain view. Despite that the anti-coup musical performance received a lot of attention from curious foreigners.

The outer side of the city also saw some symbolic activities. The most remarkable was a cremation of democracy. Held by some local activists in Chiangmai at Wat Umong. They burnt pictures and incense, almost like what happens during a Buddhist funeral. They mourned the death of democracy.

Death of Democracy and its funeral

And the latest one was the event to show a classic film from George Orwell’s novel 1984 which was planned to be shown for a day, but then the police called the place owner. The authorities demanded explanations, and claimed that it would be a copyright violation if the film was shown. Actually on this issue, the copyright owner is the one who can initiate the prosecution and the police cannot perform the functions of arrests by they own. However this event was finally cancelled.

Having diversion of artists is a charm of the anti-coup protest in Chiangmai even though many people were threatened, and the authority ransacked the home of a professor of cultural studies several times. Some book stores that sold books mainly about social critics were threatened but it has not stopped the creativity of artists to produce their passion, from their ideology to a form of symbolic activities and temporary arts.

Soldiers singing to the crowd, as part of the regime's Happiness Campaign

Although the military is trying to become part of the Chiangmai lifestyle and they are doing the “bring back happiness campaign”, all they did was stealing the cultural area of the Chiangmai people. The area that was used to create social critics, art and express their individuality, it is now Chiangmai that Junta has taken away. The Junta will never understanding art and expression, at all.


Rackchart Wong-Arthichart is a writer, who travelled to Chiangmai province in early June, to observe, interact with communities, experience the impact of the "ThaiCoup" and share his thoughts. Follow him on Twitter: @oh_kub 

His article was edited for clarity. - Zashnain @bedlamfury



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