The 2007 Silpathorn Award winner, Vasan Sitthiket, 60, made his name through provocative artwork showing how money and politics abuse (sometimes literally) Thailand. He’s also the owner of Rebel Art Space, a gallery nurturing other rebellious artists. Here, Vasan discusses his latest exhibition, I Am You, running till May 27 at the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre.
Where does the exhibition’s title come from?
Whenever I criticize others, they respond with things like, “You think you are a perfect person or what?” This exhibition, which features work I did when I was 18, is meant to show them that no, I am just like you, hence the name: I Am You. I want to be criticized, too.
Is it just about politics?
Social issues, politics, poverty, human rights and inequality. My art reflects my own thoughts of the world. I want to understand life, what life is and what the purpose of life is. I want to interact with the world.
Can you describe some of the works in this exhibition?
I Am You is divided into various concepts. One is from 1984, called, “Time… The fate for city people.” My artwork then was very raw and ferocious. I wanted to know if human beings could learn to look at things even if they aren’t beautiful. Another concept I’m calling, “With Love and Hate.” We were all once cute little babies, and I want to know how we go from that to people who are cruel, or kind and generous. There will be video art, installations, paintings and more.
What is going on at Rebel Art Space right now?
The latest exhibition was called Human Stories. We always have exhibitions about topics like refugees, politics, social issues and more. It doesn’t matter how big or small the art is, it’s the idea that needs to be big. Next, we have in mind a Rebel Residency where we will invite artists to live with us for a few weeks and create artworks together, then exhibit the art in the gallery.
Do you think these exhibitions are changing people’s perspectives?
We provide a space for people with diverse ideas to communicate with the larger society. But the education system doesn’t really teach people to think creatively. Thailand is pretty much doomed, but I still haven’t given up. I still feel most comfortable here even though I don’t see any chances of beating the government. But I’m still here. Let’s see how low this country can go. Life’s stability has no guarantee, so we always have to keep trying. Of course we are all going to die, but art gives people hope.
Last time BK interviewed you [in 2014], you said the country could be bought with just B12 billion. Do you think that’s still true?
Yes, but if you have the connections or the right last name, then you have a better chance than ordinary people. “Thai democracy” is founded on henchmen working for a big somebody. The rich can do anything, and the police follow them like henchmen. I want people to speak out. I want people to stop respecting someone just because they are rich or a child of a politician. We don’t want to live in a society where someone can just come bash on us only because they are “somebody.” Also, the rich people wouldn’t be rich if they didn’t have working-class people working for them or purchasing their products. For that reason alone they should not be cruel to the working class.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on getting my work exhibited in New York and Los Angeles right now. Around mid-year, I will go to Vienna and do graffiti. For Rebel Art Space, we will have a photography exhibition by Cherdsak Wongsa about the people from Thepa coal [the protests in Songkhla province against a new coal plant]. There is also a talk of creating an “Artist Army” at Rebel.