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Let's get political (art)

Headache Stencil makes a statement with his latest exhibition

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With the upcoming general election finally happening on Mar 24, the fate of the city hangs in the balance of voters hoping for some actual policy changes that leans toward democracy. However, some may express scepticism and while expressing one's doubts and criticism could be met with scorn and censorship, there are a few people who have expressed their opinions in other forms -- namely street art. Enter Headache Stencil, an anonymous masked political painter whose art usually deals with Thailand's recent social and political happenings.

As his name suggests, he is known for his use of stencils and rose to prominence with street art depicting deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwon's face inside an alarm clock and a black panther with an icon of a muted speaker next to it, both of which have been removed by the government. Due to the subject matter, the name "Headache" is an allusion to the pain and trouble he hopes to cause to political figures in power. One could even say he's Thailand's equivalent to renowned anonymous graffiti artist and political activist Banksy. Headache Stencil is hosting his second exhibition at WTF Gallery and Cafe titled "Thailand Casino". Guru spoke with the artist, who uses his art as a political tool.

Artist first, political activist second

Creating daring art pieces is not always in the interest of Headache Stencil's line of work. "Before all of this, I worked in an office. I wasn't an artist," he says.

After leaving said job, he went on a holiday trip to Chiang Mai with friends. This was when the 2014 coup occurred and he decided to take a stance -- starting with a painting of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha in the likeness of fictional villain Dr Evil from the Austin Powers film series.

"This has been my fifth year doing this sort of work, ever since the 2014 coup," says Headache. "I started painting about whatever I found interesting, usually politics or skateboarding. However, since there was an issue about a certain figure involved in a scandal about watches, my paintings have taken a political turn."

An art education graduate from the Faculty of Education at Chulalongkorn University, he studied many forms of art but stencil work was the style he excelled in. "It was like the only thing that I did OK," he says. "I didn't touch it for sometime after graduation. It was when my friends decided to paint graffiti, I joined them. Since I didn't know graffiti, I decided to do stencils."

Photos: Pornchai Sereemongkonpol

Despite his outspoken views on politics, Headache sees himself as an artist first. "I see my work as white even though it could be considered black when others view it. What I mean by that is, we don't have to emphasise that what we do or say is for society because in reality, the things we do is for ourselves," says the artist. "This is because we make ourselves feel that what we are doing is good, to make us feel that the society we live in sees us as a good person.

"I don't think I'm selfish because if there are people who think the same way I do and are called out for being selfish just because they see something isn't right and they want to do something about it to make things safer or better then what is the reason we shouldn't speak up?" he asks. "Society has to change and we choose not to speak out. If we choose to speak out, it could make all our lives better in the next five years or so, and it just might have the same effect to the people who are in the same situation as us."

The Exhibition

As one ventures into the second and third floors of WTF's quaint shophouse, tucked into a small alley on Sukhumvit 51, they are engulfed with striking pieces of his work all of which are biting comments on the upcoming election. The exhibition shows not only the artist's signature stencil work sprayed across the walls and ceilings but other artistic abilities through the use of sculptures and stickers. Notable pieces include a small porcelain statue of a certain uncle in the likeness of the founder of fast-food franchise KFC Col Sanders, with a "flipping the bird" gesture. Another is a golden piggy bank with the face of Prawit on top of a podium that reads "Military Fund". A stack of ballot boxes are placed on the floor, covered in stencil drawings of cockroaches.

Among the controversial art pieces is the piece de resistance at the top floor -- a casino table featuring two golden-headed, tuxedo-wearing statues playing a game of poker. To the left of the table is the likeness of exiled former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who holds a pair of queens, while to the right is PM Prayut who holds a pair of aces. Both of them are smiling smugly at each other. To go along with the theme, jazzy casino music can be heard playing in the background.

When asked why theme the exhibition around a casino, the artist replied with "because this election could be seen as a gamble for the state of the nation."

With this exhibition, Headache hopes that people are able to get the big picture of the upcoming election and realise there is more to it than meets the eye. "The major message that I want the people to receive is that they know there's gonna be an election, but do they know if there are any new rules? It's not my job to tell them what they are but what I can do is I can discreetly complain or hide some subliminal message in my art and it will make people think and make then find more information about it.

"Once that goal has been met," he continues, "the rest depends on the attention of what message I'm trying to send to the people. After the election, things will change and that will be our future in the next 20 years."

Dealing With (Unwanted) Attention

As Headache's work gained considerable attention among the people, media and elite, his life has been greatly affected.

"It has affected my life but not in the sense of fame and fortune," he says. "I have to watch out as my work can get in the way of someone who may have different views and a different level of tolerance towards my work.

"I think it's kind of bad that whenever we comment on something that is going on in our society we have to watch out for ourselves," he adds.

He began to refer to political activist Ekachai Hongkangwan as an example, a person who was mysteriously assaulted after constant calls for transparency were made towards Prawit and his luxury watch collection.

"Was there news about that? Yes. But do people really care? No," says Headache. "If you ask people why that is, it's because, on one side, some will feel satisfied and the other side will feel pity but don't know what can they do about it. What kind of country do we live in?

"I recently received the B.A.D. Award and they've asked me to make a speech. Although I feel thankful to receive it, I feel that it is not so great because I won it just for speaking the truth. It doesn't feel right to receive an award just for speaking the truth." he says. "It's getting more difficult to live in this society."

And because of speaking the truth, Headache has been the subject of trouble for the authorities who often track down his street art and track his pictures through location tagging.

"I learned that if I paint in a public space, I shouldn't tag the location," he says. "Therefore, it will be quite difficult to know where the place is. If I tag the location, the police will check it out." Since then, he finds abandoned buildings or paints over existing graffiti to avoid complaints.

He noted that his Prawit alarm clock piece was discovered due to media reports, while his black panther was discovered through his followers who posted its pictures on social media and gave the location away. Even more dire was the fact that authorities managed to raid his apartment last year, despite the fact that he has remained anonymous and wears a mask to protect his identity. Charged with vandalism, it was seen as a way for the government to silence his critically-thought provoking art.

"It helped me learn how I should live," he says. "I understand more about our society that this is not the ideal world that we live in, that it can't become the way we want it to be. There is no way we can change anything as it is difficult to change for the better."

Political Art = Social Change?

But could political art be used as a means to bring about social change? Headache believes that changing society doesn't depend on artwork, but depends on the people who see the art and share the same sentiment they have towards it.

"Even though it might just be a poster or some art painted on a wall by the street, if it has impact and people feel strongly about it, then it will change society," says Headache. "Take the black panther incident for example, if people come together I think we can change. I think today, street art is one tool to build awareness leading to change. It all comes down to the people to take action."

He also noted that with the rise of technology, people are more susceptible to faster change, however it may bring a few setbacks.

"Society can change because of people. Even more so with social media, as people are now able to share their thoughts and opinions quickly," he says. "Technology has made our lives easier but at the cost of our humanity. I was involved in a fight with this motorcycle driver. He dragged me down and beat me up in the middle of the street, in front of the people waiting for the bus at 8pm.

"Nobody helped me but they were quick to whip out their phones and film the fight. We live in a society where human value is low but we are rife with high technology."

Looking Ahead

Headache has been asked to hold another exhibition in the Patpong area where he will be painting murals relating to sex and drugs, a change from his usual political offerings. He is also planning to develop another exhibition, hoping to contact and collaborate with award-winning novelist Win Lyovarin, whose work is known to challenge readers to think critically. Apart from that Headache isn't sure what is next for him.

"After the next project, I'll probably take a break. I will disappear for a while. Let somebody else to do the work," he laughs.

In the meantime, with "Thailand Casino", Headache's goals are clear -- to make people aware of the issues he's presenting and take what they learn and research more about it.

"If it makes you think or develop thoughts and opinions about this election or makes you more informed about it, then that is what I want. Since the exhibition will be on display for a month, if there are any interesting issues between now and until the election, I will paint about it."

Check out Headache Stencil's second solo exhibition, Thailand Casino, at WTF Gallery & Cafe, Sukhumvit 51. The exhibition runs until the end of March. Open Tues-Sun: 4pm-1am. For more info contact: 02 662 6246, WeBet ที่สุดแห่งคาสิโนออนไลน์ที่คุณมองหา - WeBethttp://fb.com/WTFGalleryandCafe


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