In an interview Nibhon Khankaew, one of Khon Kaen Manifesto‘s main curators, talks about the intention, reception, and outcomes of last month’s art festival. The art show in an urban ruin in Khon Kaen city featured a mix of bold, subversive and radical artworks from Isaan and other regions.
Guest contribution by Mike Eckel
ME: What criticism did the art of Khon Kaen Manifesto provoke?
NK: People who work in the art field criticized that all artworks in this building or within the Khon Kaen Manifesto festival are related to politics. It is viewed that artists are using the space for political criticism. This kind of criticism insists that art shouldn’t have anything to do with politics. Art should be more sensitive to the heart and beauty. [Critics say that] this kind of art makes people hate one another, which is a bad thing. Good art should produce beauty and happiness. It should reflect the beauty within the hearts of the people.
ME: Why do you think these people feel art should only express beauty?
NK: They don’t know the history of the arts. They haven’t seen the art movements so they believe and argue that art has to be beautiful and must be held up high, not scattered all over the place. That’s the mindset of this criticism. The criticism helps to create dialogue, and reminds us that there is another group of people who don’t appreciate the kind of art at Manifesto.
ME: Was the meaning of the art at Khon Kaen Manifesto solely political?
NK: [Usually it is believed that] art shouldn’t have anything to do with politics but should be about the artists themselves. But Khon Kaen Manifesto viewed that artists shouldn’t be just creating meaningless pieces. It is about understanding the artists, understanding the problems. It is about the artists seeing themselves as part of the problems and drawing inspiration to create art. In coming up with questions, you have to point out what happened in the history, what happened to the communities or the people within society. It is this kind of art that announces what it is. The first of its kind in Isaan.
ME: What was the art trying to communicate?
NK: The art within Khon Kaen Manifesto is the kind that needs to be questioned and at the same time, make noise. Art is no longer the same. The art at Manifesto sent messages to people in power and people within society. It raised questions about the roots of oppression and the silencing of protest. We wanted Khon Kaen Manifesto to make noise, send a message. It was also open to criticism. But we are not stopped by the criticism. We simply wanted to display art.
ME: Do you feel people who came to Khon Kaen Manifesto understood the meanings and messages behind the art?
“Many students did not understand the art of Khon Kaen Manifesto. They came here to take selfies. But we feel their coming here opened a channel for them observe an unfamiliar kind of art. We wanted to raise awareness of this kind of art. It makes people question; why is there a chair here? Do you think most people get the idea?”
ME: What do you think Khon Kaen Manifesto accomplished for observers, if the art wasn’t fully understood?
NK: It can also be viewed as a forum that helped create arguments about what certain things mean. It is a good thing that art helps people talk. Some pieces might help people reflect. Some pieces contain symbols. Some pieces require certain kinds of explanations. Anything can happen. Because this kind of art aims to be pronounced; it created curiosity which will help people raise questions. It also helped people affirm their disapproval of this kind of art. Just like “prathet gu mee,” some groups supported it while others did not. Ultimately, it created a conversation. Many of local artist joined that project.
ME: Will there be another Khon Kaen Manifesto?
NK: We plan in two years to set up another event under a different name. Like Manifesto, it will be a space that doesn’t focus on the beauty of art, or a space for artists to show off how good they are. We will welcome both well-known and unknown artists. It doesn’t matter. I just want to see the exchanging of ideas again.