Reflecting Peoples’ Voice Through Street Art and Cultural Platform
Thailand’s Southern insurgency has long created instability to the national sovereignty and the livelihood of the residents in the South since 1948. When Dusun Nyor Rebellion took place, the conflict escalated significantly in 2004 when three major violent incidents occurred, namely gun robbery incident in Narathiwat (4 January 2004), Kerisek Mosque incident (28 April 2004), and Tak Bai incident in Narathiwat Province (25 October 2004). Mostly, the conflict was attributable to separatism aspiration. The separatists devoters have been calling for liberation of the three Southern Border Provinces (Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat), which were annexed to Thai Kimgdom in 1909. The conflict is mainly understood as an ethnic and religious conflict between the majority of Malay muslims and Thai-speaking Buddhist minority, as well as between the central authority and the local government. Nevertheless, as the conflict revolves into today’s context, there are further needs for a political inquiry whether the nature of this conflict has already been contaminated by the global terrorism movement.
Over 14 years of conflict, it has been reported that the number of death toll already reached almost 7,000. Although recently, there have been signs of the level of violence becoming relatively less severe and less frequent, the aftermath of bombing and attacks can be still be observed. Earlier this month, Joint Working Group on Peace Dialogue Process was held to initiate the stepping stone for a peaceful resolution to the conflict by making a two-year roadmap. The Peace Dialogue Panel, which has Malaysia as a facilitator, currently has Mara-Pattani (Majlis Amanah Rakyat Patani – The Amanah Council for Patani People) as the main counterpart on the negotiation table, and is encouraging the BRN (Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani ) to participate in this peace talk.
Apart from the government efforts to bring stability into the region, integrity and peace are present in the livelihood of people in the deep South of Thailand. There are also movements created by various groups of artists to boost these peaceful resolution efforts. Recently, a artist group called “Saiburi Looker” gave an interview to Al Jazeera about their motivations to use art as the means to promote communal ties that were much damaged by distrust during the course of conflict. This group is composed of artists from the local area. With the first-hand experience, and the development of distrust and Islamophobia as an eye witness of violence in the region, they hope to encourage more open conversations between all the parties affected (e.g. local Muslims, Buddhists, and military or authority agents) through art and cultural activities, such as music, public wall painting, poem reading and football. Furthermore, the group also hope that through their artwork where local people get to be the first-hand storyteller, messages from the civilians’ viewpoint can be sent out to the outside and the general public of Thailand. Anus Pongpraset, one of the leading members, gave an interview to Halal Life that as a form of soft power, art can re-integrate people in local communities, and gradually crumble the wall of misunderstanding and mistrust amidst peoples of ethnic and religious diversity.
Another example portraying the artistic instrument as efforts to rejuvenate the community can be observed in the graffiti arts in Yala Province. Just in the mid term of last year, Alex Face or Patcharapol Tangruen, one of the influential graffiti artists in Thailand, collaborated with the municipal government to create street arts in the district that is hoped to ease the stress and tensions local community has been facing. The artist reflected “art may not solve the problem itself. But at least it can speak out what peoples want”. Also, there have been other street art projects reflecting similar attempts to paint the province in colour vibes again. Faculty and students of the Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Arts of Silpakorn University collaborated with the Batong District government’s project named “111 Year History of Betong”. The faculty and students painted walls in public areas illustrating the stories of local traditions, cultural diversity, and the livelihood of the peoples.
Many international audiences or foreign tourists may have not been aware of this unsettled domestic conflict in Thailand. Known to be the ‘Land of Smile,’ the country is still plagued with ongoing violence in the deep South. The issue is portrayed as a national agenda, setting the negotiation dialogues between the authority and the liberation protesters. Unsurprisingly, most of the time, civilians who yearn for peaceful and normal livelihood, are left out from the conversation, even when they are subjected to as victims of the violence, and are fed with mistrust against one another. My experience to visit some parts of the so-labeled “red zone”, the frequent incident occurring districts, intrigued me with the level of fear that Buddhists and Muslims have against one another. The art and cultural platforms in the public space discussed is hoped to present some of the civilians’ efforts to tell their own stories to reflect their needs, and to heal the broken communal ties they used to have prior to the escalation of conflicts. The communities have been imprinted with the enemy image or ‘us versus them’ ideology. Art may not end the conflict, but may stand as a powerful tool to encourage mutual understanding and open opportunities for more locals to be engaged with these peaceful activities.
(1) The Rebellion occurred in April 1948 – a clash between Malay-Muslim villagers and police. This historical event critically portrayed the great Malay struggle for freedom and justice. It was described as a symbolic resistance that continues to inspire later liberation movements in the South.
(2) Bodetti, Austin. “Will Southern Thailand Turn to Jihad?” The Diplomat, The Diplomat, 20 Nov. 2017, thediplomat.com/2017/11/will-southern-thailand-turn-to-jihad/.
(3) “14 ปี ไฟใต้ ความรุนแรงลดลง แต่ นักสิทธิฯชี้การซ้อมทรมานยังมี – BBC News บีบีซีไทย.” BBC News, BBC, 4 Jan. 2018, www.bbc.com/thai/thailand-42562915.
(4) PBS News. “‘อเล็กซ์ เฟซ’ สร้าง‘สตรีทอาร์ต’ กลางเมืองยะลา ผ่อนคลายความตึงเครียดเหตุความไม่สงบ.” Thai PBS, Thai PBS, 19 Sept. 2017, news.thaipbs.or.th/content/266237.
(5) กรณ์วิกา . “ไม่ไปไม่ได้แล้ว!! สตรีทอาร์ต (Street Art) แลนด์มาร์กใหม่ ‘อ.เบตง จ.ยะลา.’” MThai News, 17 Feb. 2017, news.mthai.com/general-news/549813.html.