“Every 5th of Every Month,” the art of remembrance from Mora (Nuntana Wongtawee) to Wanchalearm Satsaksit throughout 1 year after the enforced disappearance.
These words have been used to name the cruelty that happened to Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a Thai political refugee living in Cambodia. On 4 June 2020, there were reports of his disappearance from in front of his residence in the middle of Phnom Penh. But Wanchalearm did not disappear without trace.
His voice yelling “I can’t breathe” repeatedly for over 30 minutes that his sister heard through the phone and photos from security cameras of the vehicle involved are important evidence showing the unusual things that happened in his life. But even with this clarity, the Thai and Cambodian governments remain silent and have taken an unresponsive stance to Wanchalearm’s enforced disappearance. Only his sister has continued to fight for her little brother’s life ever since the first day of the incident.
News of Wanchalearm’s enforced disappearance had a great impact on the mind and the consciousness of humanity of Mora – Nuntana Wongtawee. In one sense, she did not want anything so bad to happen to anyone and by chance the day of the incident coincided with Mora’s 26th birthday. Everything merely emphasized that she may be unable to be happy on her own birthday, since on this day, someone was made to cruelly disappear without any attention from the governments of the two countries.
In order to not forget, Mora created the “Every 5th of Every Month” project to remind herself and society of the lives of the victims of enforced disappearance. She would appear on the 5th of every month, starting from the day Wanchalearm disappeared, staging small protests through artwork and performance so that people passing by would think at least a little of the name of Wanchalearm Satsaksit.
Throughout this past year, Mora has tried many times to make a link to new incidents such as the arrest of students who started a movement calling for the right to bail for Section 112 defendants, etc.
Prachatai has invited Mora to talk about what she has been trying to do over the year.
Every 5th of Every Month no.1
(5 June 2020, after the day of the incident)
Who is Wanchalearm Satsaksit in the eyes of Mora?
Mora: Before, I only heard his name as one of the people who the NCPO knew as a political refugee, but I didn’t follow the news and wasn’t particularly interested. But when it was clear that he was forcibly disappeared and there was clear evidence, yet no one came out – the authorities in the country where it happened said that they had nothing to do with it, our country threw it back saying that it happened over there – I felt that he was persecuted too much. His human rights were threatened. He shouldn’t be facing this. No one should have to face this.
Wanchalearm is someone who you don’t even know. What caused you to stand up for him?
Mora: I don’t know him, but I felt that it was the same day as my birthday, and it was like the news I got really affected me more than other news. I felt frustrated in a way that I couldn’t take. I couldn’t keep still in my room.
The first time, I stood alone holding a sign in the middle of the intersection behind the university (CMU) for around half an hour at around 5–6 pm. I met a friend near the faculty and asked them to livestream for me, so there are photos. When I stood there no one came up to ask, but people would stop to look or take photos. I wrote in English, “Stop Killing Refugees.” Some people looked up what the words meant on their phone. It’s good that there are still people interested.
Every 5th of Every Month no.2
Walking out alone onto the road that day, how did it become 12 months?
Mora: The news came out on 4 June. Then on the 5th, the news went quiet in just one day? I thought, “What the hell are they doing?” It’s not fair at all.
The second time I went to the front of the Law building, so the people around that area got curious about what day it is today. I didn’t tell them directly, I just acted out something abnormal in a public space so they worked out that something was going on.
I just think that it mustn’t be forgotten.
So I think that the day of the incident is an important day and I need to do something every month.
Every 5th of Every Month no.3
Have you ever before used your own art for political expression?
Mora: Never. I’ve never inserted politics into my own work before. Most of my works are paintings. I graduated from the Bachelor of Fine Arts programme in Painting. I’m a person who likes watching performances but I didn’t dare do it because I was too embarrassed. When this happened, I couldn’t stand it. I had to go out and do something. The performance was quick and I can use my own body to communicate. If I’d done anything else, it would have been too late at that time.
Where is the power of art and storytelling in Wanchalearm’s story?
Mora: Art is more of a method I chose to use. It may not be the best method, but I was interested in live performances. The first time I went out, I was pressed into using actions as well, so I chose performances to communicate some emotions. The materials I chose to work with allowed everyone to participate in the interpretation. That’s why I chose art.
Art may be like a low frequency for some people, while it may be a high frequency for someone else.
Every 5th of Every Month no.4
What inspires your concept each month?
Mora: The first time, I looked at what I already had. The second time, there was Prasiddhi Grudharochana’s case and his fingerprints were taken when he answered the summons. I became interested in black fingers, so I painted my fingers black and decorated my face, eyes and mouth. I used components I thought I should use. Having black fingers make it feels mysterious.
October is like a special month for me. It is a month of history and democracy, so I used a radio and tied it to my head and became Radio Girl. I performed in front of the Law building which stands for law and justice. I chose a radio because radios are a one-way communication device. I like working with sounds. I like choosing waves, sometimes I can choose but sometimes I can’t. Radios are distinctive for being both clear and unclear, and they have interference.
One month, I went to the old women’s prison in the city centre and went to the cemetery. During that time, there was news of Rung Panussaya getting arrested for the first time. I acted out a performance for people to see who didn’t intend to see it. I had a black umbrella and a cloth that had causes of death written on it hanging from my hand as well. Going to the cemetery, it was already clear that I was talking about death. Going to the cemetery is different from going anywhere else. If I go anywhere else, there are people who see it. If I go to the cemetery, there will be no one to see it, but the picture comes out clearly.
The guitar was covered by a black trash bag in the 2nd month action. I like this piece of work because a guitar is something that creates sound, but it has been made incapable of making sounds. It’s covered and tied up. I think that the stone used in the work is like our skeleton.
Actually, I’m a person who is very timid and shy, but when the time comes, it has to be done. It’s like another identity.
Every 5th of Every Month no.5
What did going out for 12 months to commemorate Wanchalearm at various places, meeting people who changed every time allow us to see?
Mora: I saw people who were interested, people who were not interested and those who pretended not to be interested. It’s strange. Why do they have to pretend to not see me? I’m right there. Why would they need to turn away? Seeing someone pretend to not see me very clearly reflects our society. The issue is truly right in front of our faces already, but we still turn away. We act as if we don’t recognize anything as if nothing has happened. We’re just lying to ourselves that things are still okay.
And what materialized within yourself?
Mora: Can you call it materializing? I just felt that expressing oneself should be something everyone does. Enforced disappearance is not even something far away from us. In one aspect, we’re also making demands of ourselves as well. In the end, those that benefit are all of us. What happened to Wanchalearm could happen to everyone.
In the past, just one person’s little actions –if they just come out, no matter what they do.
Just for one person or another to recognize that while we’re living normally, there are still people being deprived of their rights. They don’t have the right to live.
Every 5th of Every Month no.6
When you look into the fight of the “waiting people” of those that disappeared, no matter if it’s Wanchalearm’s sister or any other person, how do you feel?
Mora: I feel that they may think in their hearts that they won’t meet them again, but they still have hope. Like Wanchalearm’s sister who said, “Finding his corpse would be good.” It’s sad. I feel that their relatives are very strong. While we’re not related to them, I still feel that a month has already passed, and nothing progresses at all unless their family members come out to push or move forward the case.
Their families have to endure the waiting without knowing anything. At the same time, they also have to fight. There are probably times that they feel upset, but they still have to move the case forward, since there is no one else doing it. This is probably the main reason I came out as well. To warn others or even myself that in the year we’re all crazy about democracy, there are still these incidents and we can’t do anything at all. The Thai state doesn’t look like it will help or investigate. It’s strange. It sucks.
Every 5th of Every Month no.7
Do you still feel bad about your own birthday?
Mora: Yes (answers very quickly)
I was born on 4 June, the same day as the incident. But I chose to come out on the 5th of every month because at that time, on the 5th, the story had already died down. I don’t want it to disappear, so on the 5th of every month, I go out to do something.
After this, my birthday will probably never be the same again. It’s an important day for me and also the day of an important event. I have to remember that Wanchalearm’s abduction happened. It’s painful. But when I’m with my friends on my birthday, I won’t say, hey someone disappeared today. I will just sit there, but I won’t forget.
Every 5th of Every Month no.8
Luckily, on the day of the interview, Mora also invited Phraew - Warattaya Chaisin, her best friend. Even though Phraew was only part of “Every 5th of Every Month” on some months, depending on the time and occasion, Phraew is considered to be an important support who, from the start, encouraged her friend to use art to pubicize the issue of Wanchalearm and other people who have undergone enforced disappearance. On that day, since Phraew was there, we were able to hear the words which helped soothe Mora over the guilt that was consuming her. Having her birthday fall on the day of the incident became a stubborn curse on Mora’s heart, even though she did not harm or destroy the tiniest part of Wanchalearm’s life at all.
Phraew: It’s infuriating. From now she won’t ever be able to feel fully happy on her own birthday.
Mora once said something to me when I was sad. She patted my shoulder and said, “I know what happened was terrible, but that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be happy.” It was very important to me and I want Mora to be like that as well. It’s not strange that her birthday would no longer be the same, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have the right to be happy.
Every 5th of Every Month no.9
Do you want us to tell everyone who you are, to have commemorated Wanchalearm quietly for 12 long months?
Mora: I don’t want to call myself an artist or anything. I’m just another citizen using art to communicate. I hold on to the first feeling I had when I went out. Who did I go out as? I was another person who received the news and wasn’t able to stand it. I couldn’t stay still. As another citizen, I also wanted to come out and do something small without worrying whether people would pay attention to me, or would they pay attention to this issue or not? I just wanted to come out. I support everyone to come out.
Every 5th of Every Month no.10
(9th-month on Facebook live due to the Covid pandemic)
Every 5th of Every Month no.11
(10th month including Mora’s friends)
Every 5th of Every Month no.12
Every 5th of Every Month no.13