Thanom Chapakdee dies at 64

Artist, academic, and art critic Thanom Chapakdee died yesterday (27 June) at the age of 64, after he was hospitalized in mid-June for cerebral artery constriction.

Thanom Chapakdee

A former special instructor at Srinakharinwirot University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, Thanom is known for his work as an artist-activist and his art criticism, which he published in various magazines from 1977 – 2007. His works of criticism were compiled in “State of the Art: On Thai Contemporary Art.” He was also a co-founder of the performance art group U-Kabat and co-organized the performance art festival “ASIATOPIA.”

In 2019, Thanom and other artists founded an art centre named The MANIFESTO by MAIELIE in Khon Kaen, which they intended to be an exhibition space for art that deals with political and social issues and the headquarters for the art festival Khonkaen Manifesto, to be held every two years. The festival was held for the first time in October 2018, and was described as subversive and radical by observers.

At the opening ceremony for The MANIFESTO, Thanom said that he and his colleagues wanted to make a base for the festival, and chose Khon Kaen because, during Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat’s regime, it was positioned as the centre of Isaan or the northeastern region. They also wanted a space for an archive , a library, and a residential space for artists.

Thanom said that exhibition opportunities in the country are often limited to museums and galleries, but he wanted to encourage the kind of art that is related to local communities, so that people are aware that art is part of everyday life. The art centre would serve as a space for what he called “participatory art,” in which artists must conduct field research and work with communities, and would be a space in which anyone can make art without placing a limit on the definition of artist.

“I want art and culture to raise questions, rather than giving ready-made answers. I don’t see that art must be beauty, but art is something that can raise questions for people in the society,” he said.

Thanom also participated in the pro-democracy movement, joining various protests and the February 2021 “Walk Through the Sky” march, in which activists, led by members of the activist group People Go Network, walked 247.5 Km from Nakhon Ratchasima to Bangkok to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and demand the release of then-detained activists. He has also joined the “Stand Against Detention” and “Walk Against Detention” protests to demand the right to bail for activists held in pre-trial detention on charges relating to political expression during the past year.

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