27 Artists Grapple with the Fractious Politics of Thailand

Installation shot of Patani Semasa, in the Ilham gallery (all images courtesy Ilham gallery)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Petani Semasa is a significant exhibition on contemporary art about the Patani region of Southern Thailand, that privileges local artists. Currently on display at the Ilham gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the works are deeply complicated, and largely unsettling. Featuring 27 artists, the show never resolves into a unified voice, but showcases the diversity of practice and experience of the region. Patani Semasa adopts poetic means of representation from a region largely internationally defined by its enforced marginality.

The Patani region abuts Malaysia and is politically fraught due to unresolved or outright antagonistic tensions between the marginalized Islamic and ethnically Malay locals, and the politically dominant Tai ethnic group that is part of the Buddhist majority in Thailand. This conflict has been simmering for decades, perhaps peaking in 2004 with the Tak Bai incident wherein approximately 78 men were tragically killed by Thai police (some reports put the number of the dead higher). This violent episode is dramatically referenced throughout the exhibition, notably in Jakkai Siributr’s “78” (2014), (which I’ve written about previously), as well as in Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh’s work, “Remember at Tak-Bai,” (2008), which also serves as a memorial to the tragedy.

Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh, “Remember at Tak-Bai,” (2004)

An especially haunting work is Nuriya Waji’s “Fade Away 3,” (2016). The painting features a ghostly figure, just barely articulated by a line drawing to be recognized as a woman. Spilling out of her chador (or Hijab) is a dark, smokey pigment, covering her identity and blowing away with a wind that seems to come from behind her. A deep feeling of loss pervades the figure, floating in an undefined locale.

Nuriya Waji, “Fade Away…

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