Southeast Asian artists have often found inspiration in the turbulent socio-political environments politics of their nascent democracies, and with the latest development in Thailand, there is plenty to inspire artists. ‘‘Manit Sriwanichpoom: Phenomena and Prophecies,’’ just closed at sam at 8Q but will be moving to Srinakharinwirot University next April. Manit is best known for his iconic Pink Man Series of photographs, in which he has been commenting on Thai people’s rising consumerism, but over the recent years he's increasingly provided commentaries on the complex political landscape. Manit’s ongoing Pink Man series started in 1997. It was initially conceived with a poet friend, Sompong Thawee, as a video and photo documentation of three ‘‘hit-and-run’’ performances in the streets of Bangkok, but has since taken on a life of its own. Dressed in the same garish pink silk costume, and often, pushing a pink shopping cart, the plump Sompong appears emotionless, whether in Balinese rice fields or European streets, as Manit comments on rampant consumerism. He said he chose pink ‘‘because as a child I grew up associating it with bad taste.’
Horror in Pink No.1
In the Horror in Pink series (2001), he was even more politically aware, superimposing the image of his Pink Man on archival newspaper photographs taken during the bloody repression of a 1970s student uprising against a military regime. In the powerful Horror in Pink No.1, Manit has the Pink Man smiling as if satisfied despite appearing in an Associated Press photograph by Neal Ulevich, showing a man smashing a folded chair on the head of a student hung in a lynching while the crowd looks on impassively. In the Pink, White & Blue series (2005), the Pink Man wraps himself in the Thai flag, a comment on the rise of nationalism in his country, while in his latest series, Pink Man Opera (2009), he positions his character amid Thai classical dancers while exploring Thailand’s the recent political unrest through scenic recreations of various Thai proverbs. One such example is the proverb ‘‘Do not export family secrets; do not import trouble from outside.’’ ‘‘That one is based on what Thaksin [Shinawatra] has been doing since he was ousted by the coup. He’s been trying to get U.N. intervening in Thai politics,’’ the artist said.
Bloodless War No. 3
Not all of Mr. Manit’s series include the Pink Man. His Bloodless War series (1997), transports iconic photographs from the Vietnam into a Thai context. Bloodless War No.3 uses the iconic Vietnam war photograph ‘‘napalm girl’’ taken by Nick Ut, but Manit’s characters are dressed as office workers carrying luxury-brand shopping bags.