Two Dozen International Artists in the Bangkok Art Biennale Have Signed an Open Letter Decrying Crackdowns on Pro-Democracy Protests in Thailand

The letter has been signed by Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor, and John Akomfrah, among others.

Pro-democracy protesters in Thailand making the three-finger salute from The Hunger Games during an anti-government demonstration. Photo by Geem Drake/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.
Pro-democracy protesters in Thailand making the three-finger salute from The Hunger Games during an anti-government demonstration. Photo by Geem Drake/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

As pro-democracy demonstrations sweep Thailand, 25 artists participating in the upcoming Bangkok Art Biennale have released an open letter supporting the protestors and decrying violent police crackdowns on peaceful gatherings.

The signatories, including Ai WeiweiAnish Kapoor, and John Akomfrah, as well as Thai artists Bussaraporn Thongchai, I-na Phuyuthanon, and Prateep Suthatongthai, write that they “unequivocally condemn and call for the immediate stop to the use of violence against the protesters and express our support for their struggle for democracy.”

The biennale, which launched in 2018, is one of the few major international art events to proceed with an in-person exhibition in 2020. Organized by artistic director Apinan Poshyananda and featuring more than 80 artists from 35 countries, the exhibition opened in three venues on October 12 and celebrates its official opening on October 29.

“We have been deeply concerned by the recent scenes of violence in our city of Bangkok, including around sites of our forthcoming event,” Poshyananda said in an email to Artnet News. “We conceived the biennale to engage, inspire, and incubate diverse Thai, ASEAN, and international debate and dialogue.”

Pro-democracy protesters in Thailand covering themselves from the water cannons with umbrellas. Photo by Yuttachai Kongprasert/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Pro-democracy protesters in Thailand covering themselves from the water cannons with umbrellas. Photo by Yuttachai Kongprasert/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

In the letter, published October 21, the artists say they “must not only maintain art as a space for reflection and debate on the issues of the day, but also be able to speak directly to the situations that have literally arrived at our doorstep.”

Many of the demonstrations have been staged just outside the exhibition’s main venue, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Seeing police employ violence to disperse peaceful protestors has “weighed heavily upon us,” the letter says.

Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, the main venue of the Bangkok Art Biennale. Photo courtesy of the Bangkok Art Biennale.

Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, the main venue of the Bangkok Art Biennale. Photo courtesy of the Bangkok Art Biennale.

The pro-democracy movement, led by the nation’s students, began late last year after Prayut Chan-ocha, leader of the military junta that had controlled the country since 2014, was made Prime Minister. Demonstrations resumed in July after a lockdown-induced hiatus.

The protestors demand that restrictions on freedom of speech be lifted, parliament be dissolved, and a new constitution be drafted.

Other members of the arts community have voiced their support for the movement, with a petition under the name “Arts and Culture Network for Democracy” attracting over 1,000 signatures in August, according to ArtAsiaPacific.

A protester tries in Bangkok. Photo by Yuttachai Kongprasert/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

A protester tries in Bangkok. Photo by Yuttachai Kongprasert/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Biennale artists who have not yet signed the letter include Andres Serrano, Bill Viola, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Yoko Ono, and Marina Abramoviç, who is presenting her 2018 VR project Rising.

The exhibition will be on view at sites across the city, including at three ancient Buddhist temples. Health and safety precautions such as mandatory mask-wearing, temperature checks, and social distancing will be in effect at all venues.

The Bangkok Art Biennale is on view at nine venues across the city from October 29, 2020–January 31, 2021.


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