101 East

Thailand’s Rebel Artists

101 East meets Thailand’s artists who are fighting back against censorship and military rule.

Rap Against Dictatorship is striking a chord across Thailand.

The rap group’s hit single, What My Country’s Got, has been viewed almost 60 million times since it was uploaded last October.

The lyrics rail against corruption, human rights abuses and a social divide that’s grown since the army took power in 2014.

Five years after the coup, a wave of young artists is finding new ways to push the boundaries in the lead-up to general elections this month.

Among them is masked graffitist Headache Stencil, who uses spray cans as weapons to create provocative works about the nation’s rulers.

“I’ve been taught that dictatorship is evil. That’s why I stand up for myself and do something about it,” he says.

Street art is more prolific in Bangkok since Thailand's military took power in a coup in 2014. [101 East/Al Jazeera]
Street art is more prolific in Bangkok since Thailand’s military took power in a coup in 2014. [101 East/Al Jazeera]

 Laws that protect Thailand’s rulers from criticism have been used on an unprecedented scale since the army took over.

Shortly after the coup, Pornthip Mankong was imprisoned for two and a half years for acting in a university play that was interpreted as critical of the royal family.

“I know the power of art because I saw the fear of the military. That’s why they put me in jail … because they fear,” the actress says.

Thailand’s military insists there is no repression and the country hosts major art expos.

But beyond the glitz, curators say they operate in a climate of fear where soldiers have raided galleries and removed artworks critical of the military.

101 East meets Thailand’s rebel artists.

FOR MORE: Straight outta Bangkok: The world of Thailand’s rebel artists