Ive been to Thailand many times – Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Suratthani as well as lots of the islands in the south of the country. It never struck me until recently how little street art there is in the entire country. This piece will look at the possible reasons for the lack of urban art and graffiti in Thailand, explore the social and artistic implications of this, and show a couple of pieces of sited Thai urban art.
Lots to paint about
The political history of Thailand has been beset by numerous military take overs. The last happened in 2006. The country is now on the brink of civil conflict as the red shirts and the yellow shirts continue to protest (sometimes violently). Behind the scenes of the present government is Shinawtra Thaksin who threatens to return with a full pardon and destabilize the country. Thailand has a vast disparity in wealth. The police force are notoriously corrupt. The army is fighting an insurgency in the south and is rumoured to be carrying out executions of separatists. There is a lot to complain about in Thailand. There is a lot to respond to by the means of urban art, and yet it is nearly impossible to find either in Bangkok, Phuket, the tourist island of Koh Samui or the rave island of Phangan. Why?
Why so little urban art in Thailand?
Many urban artists trained as graphic designers and artists. The art scene has been slow to flourish in Thailand due to poor teritary education. Also much of what passes as Thai art are just corny reproductions of elephants and Buddha heads.
Thai cities are chaotic and full of street life. It can be hard to make a visual impact with street art in urban areas that are just cluttered to the eye.
No doubt the penalities and social stigma of painting on National monuments is not worth the risk. Painting on a temple would be an unspeakable crime.
Thai people are obviously missing a key way of expressing their dissatisfaction with the status quo. Thousands of websites have been blocked by the authorities, especially after the last military coup. It is no wonder that violence becomes the only way to express political opinions. Any negative comment made about the King receives harsh prison penalties under the lese majeste laws.
The lack of street art in Thailand is no doubt hampering the development of new artistic aesthetics. A few artists are beginning to break the mold, but their work is not being seen widely by the public.
Street art in Thailand
Thanks to www.marshallastor.com we have a few photographs of street art in Bang Saen, a small resort city 85 km south of Bangkok. Much of the street art was found on ruined buildings and is not readily spotted by the public. The art is mostly of a low quality with very little political content. It does show, however, that there is a group of Thais or foreigners beginning to develop an urban art scene in Thailand.