This article is a response to a particular comment on a recent New Mandala post by Jim Taylor about redshirt art and symbols.

MattB responded in this way:

I have yet so see any artistic or aesthetic symbolic works that define the Red anger and angst. The mumbo-jumbo blood shedding by the Reds around March/Apr2010 . . . was not it, I presume. The M79 grenade Red fireworks at ground (not sky) level was frighteningly dramatic nor aethetically subtle, so was not it either I presume. The finale of fire and flames . . . arson rampage at Rajaprasong . . was neither artistic nor aesthetic . . . but that is just my opinion.

Perhaps I just don’t understand the subtlety nor symbolism of Red art.

This comment angered me. For one thing it trickily conflates the “mumbo jumbo” ritual that the Redshirts did conduct of collecting blood and symbolically pouring it onto selected sites with the “bloodshedding” of the 91 deaths of this period. The first was definitely a symbolic, artistic expression but MattB might like to also condemn the Art Departments of the army and government for the “bloodshedding”. We know that the Reds participated in the first event but we do not yet know for certain if or how they participated in the second event except as bodies whose blood was shed.

The second thing that angered me about it is that it is of a piece with the constant dehumanizing depiction of the redshirts as a mindless zombie army, incapable of creative or independent thought and expression, completely dependent on their evil genius master.

So I wrote this in response:

I went to Phan Fa a couple of days after the deaths of April 10 when the redshirts were still there. The Democracy Monument was transformed by graffiti all over it, the steps, the pillars and cardboard boxes all around it. A red sash with a question I have not yet deciphered was wound around the centre of the monument and a red cloth covered the pinnacle of the monument. There were lots of paintings on boards, one of a soldier’s helmet as the monument, another a pastiche of Michelangelo’s God creating Adam and giving him democracy.

The atmosphere was sombre; people had been killed but there was still a sense of victory. They had held the area. And the transformation of the monument struck me as not as vandalism but as an act of creation and ownership. After all the monument had been something of an empty symbol of a democracy that was always given to people and then taken away, not something that they took for themselves and made by themselves. Here they did that.

It was all washed away very quickly. A responsive government might have recorded every word written and found out so much about what people felt and believed and what they wanted for the country.

I have a couple of pictures of this transformed monument to preserve this memory.

A couple of people asked to see these pictures so here they are.

So MattB, some red art. You may not think much of it but it exists.

Interestingly, this transformation of the democracy monument and its subsequent white-washing links to what happened at Rachaprasong on the fourth anniversary of the coup protest on September 19, 2010. The hoardings covering the burnt-out section of Central were graffitied over by the Reds and very quickly removed. Pravit has an interesting article about this event at The Nation here.

I noticed the original hoardings at Central for the first time a couple of weeks ago. The feelgood text struck me as being an interesting elaboration of the meaningless/mean anything corporate speak that we find in that now ubiquitous little phrase “Together we can” (Together we can WHAT? I’m sure I’m not the only person to ask this question) and that other lovely-sounding word “reconciliation”. But I didn’t have my camera with me. I wanted to document it for a continuing project I’m doing called Thai Politics and the English Language (you can see early drafts of this project here, here, here and here) as what I noticed, although it was just a glance off the Skytrain, was in English. But the Reds re-designed it and then Central whisked away their efforts.

So I’d be grateful if anyone can post either the original hoarding, the Redshirt improvisation on that theme or the current bare walls. And a “Together we can” poster. Together we can … I dunno… kill a bunch of ignorant, uneducated, uncultured, impolite, inartistic, unimportant Redshirt peasants…Together we can.