Art critic Pearamon Tulavardhana reports that she has received a court summons on a charge of defamation by publication filed against her by Chiang Mai University lecturer Pongsiri Kiddee, after she published an article on an exhibition organized by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC).
Pearamon said that the cause of the lawsuit was an article “National treasure or whose treasure? What kind of art did the government use my taxes to buy?” (“สมบัติชาติหรือสมบัติใคร ภาษีเรา รัฐเอาไปเปย์งานศิลป์อะไรเนี่ยถามจริ๊ง”), published in March 2021. The article reviewed an OCAC exhibition featuring artwork purchased by the OCAC as “national treasures.” It raised questions about the OCAC’s criteria for choosing these works, since there was no work by artists who produce non-traditional styles of art.
The article stated that the OCAC spent 19 million baht to buy artworks for its collection, and that a document containing the list of artists whose works were purchased was published on the OCAC website for a short time before being taken down, raising questions about the OCAC’s criteria in spending such a large amount of money to buy these works, why these works were chosen, and who the selection committee members are.
The exhibition in question took place on 19 March – 9 May 2021 at the Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Center. Pearamon’s article questioned whether these works can be considered contemporary, and stated that there is no description of the works or an explanation of how these works were curated in the exhibition.
Pearamon gave the example of Pongsiri’s work, which was featured in the exhibition. She said that she was sued for comparing his earlier works with his more recent works in her article and saying that they showed no development. She was also sued for writing that the editor should not delete Pongsiri’s academic title from the article, because he might not be happy with it, which was interpreted to mean that she was accusing him of being snobbish.
Pearamon said that she finds it unusual that Pongsiri filed a lawsuit against her, as the article mainly criticized the OCAC, and if anyone is going to file a lawsuit against her, it should be the OCAC, which is the subject of the article.
The article was published in Way Magazine and has not been taken down. Pearamon said that the Way Magazine editorial team told her they had not received any court summons, meaning that it is likely that the lawsuit was filed only against her.
The lawsuit was also filed with a court in Nakhon Si Thammarat, even though the exhibition took place in Bangkok, where Pearamon is based, and Pongsiri lives in Chiang Mai.
Pearamon said that, if the case goes to court, she would insist that she did nothing wrong, because she is only doing her job as member of the press, and that she wanted to insist that criticism should be normal practice. A lawyer she consulted also told her to stand by her role in the media and her experience working in the arts, as she has been working as a coordinator in an art gallery for the past 3 years, and has published articles for at least 5 years.
“If there is going to be a settlement, I don’t want to take the entire article down, because I don’t want to censor myself, and there is nothing for me to apologize, because criticism is normal,” Pearamon said. “I want to insist that criticism should be possible, especially when you are an artist. Once your work reaches the public, if someone who is a member of the public sees it, they must be able to criticize your work. It’s no different from movies or food, the things which you can review.”
Peeramon said that she now has a lawyer. The first inquiry hearing is set for December 2021.
Pongsiri is a lecturer in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Chiang Mai University, and the Faculty’s Deputy Dean of Student Development. In March 2021, he was reported to be one of the faculty personnel attempting to remove students’ art projects from the Media Arts and Design Department building without first informing the students, claiming that some items were removed because they might constitute violations of the law. The students later filed charges of theft and destruction of property against Pongsiri, along with Asawinee Wanjing, the Faculty Dean, Pakornpatara Janthakhaisorn, the Deputy Dean of Administration, Sulalak Khaopong, the Faculty Secretary, and Chaiyan Khomkaew, a staff member the university art gallery, as their projects were damaged during the incident and some were missing.
Under Section 328 of the Thai Criminal Code, defamation by publication is an offense punishable by imprisonment not exceeding two years and a fine not exceeding 200,000 baht.