THE FOURTH ISSUE OF FIHRM-AP - Kills Are Coated: Art under Conflict in Thailand’s Deep South

Author Profile - Nathaporn Songsawas

Nathaporn Songsawas holds a B.A. in English and minor in Comparative Literature from Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. She is currently an independent writer and Human Rights Research Assistant at Cross Cultural Foundation, a Thailand-based nonprofit foundation working to ensure equal access to justice for all people in Thailand.

About Cross Cultural Foundation

Founded in 2002, The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) is a Thailand-based nonprofit foundation working to ensure equal access to justice for all people in Thailand and working very closely with international human rights networks to empower and include indigenous and minority populations. CrCF has focused on monitoring and investigating human rights abuses; advocating for and promoting a vision of justice that empowers people to understand and realize their rights; preventing torture; protecting human rights through legal strategies; and providing free legal aid and tangible assistance to vulnerable groups in Thailand’s southern border provinces.

 “No matter how loud we cry out, they do not hear us.”

This quote is among the messages written on the kite-shaped canvas promising to bring voices from the Deep South of Thailand to other areas. It is one of the interactive art works displayed in Submerged—an art exhibition hosted in Patani, Thailand, during June 10-13th, 2022, to spread information and raise awareness on various human rights violations in the southernmost region of Thailand. 

Photo credit: Thalufah Group

Photo credit: Thalufah Group

Patani, Yala, and Narathiwat are the three southern border provinces of Thailand which have always been under the conflict with Thai state. 85% of the population in these areas is Muslim, while the other 15% mainly consists of Thai Buddhist population. The conflict has originated as far back as 1902 when these areas, previously known as Patani Kingdom, were annexed to the Kingdom of Siam or present Thailand. Ever since, there have been clashes between the Thai government and a group of Malay-Muslim who attempts to reclaim independence and reestablish the autonomous state of Patani. Among a variety of factors which spawned and perpetuate this conflict are the decades of injustice and discrimination of Thai state officers towards Malay-Muslim population, and the obligation to live under some Thai Buddhist state regulations which are against Islamic practices.    

The beginning of the present wave of conflict was marked by the gun robbery incident at Pileng Military Camp, Narathiwat, on January 4th, 1932, where hundreds of guns were stolen and four military personnel were killed. Subsequently, since 1932-1933, Thai government has implemented three special laws: Martial Law, Emergency Decree, and Internal Security Act on 33 districts in the Deep South. These special laws enable state officers to search the properties, arrest, and detain the “suspect” without a court-issued warrant up to 37 days, during which cases of torture have constantly been reported to take place. 

According to the locals, the human rights violation situation in the Deep South used to be far worse during the early years after the security laws were implemented. With the control of the media, authorities can perform any kinds of mistreatment within this isolated territory under the radar. Today, however, with the growth of technologies that enables the existence of local independent media and more non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the Deep South, it becomes harder for the authorities to abuse their power without being noticed. Among these NGOs is Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), Thailand-based nonprofit foundation established in 2002 which emphasizes on ensuring the inclusion and justice for indigenous and minority populations. Their scope of work includes advocating against human rights violations; monitoring and investigating human rights abuses; and providing free legal aid and tangible assistance to vulnerable groups.

Through the years, CrCF has been working closely with the locals in Thai Deep South to follow the human rights violation situation in the region and also provide legal aid and knowledge to local human rights defenders. This year, however, a CrCF’s volunteer decided to complete her advocacy task a little differently with her art project, Kills Are Coated. 

Nathaporn Songsawas, CrCF human rights volunteer and the creator of Kills Are Coated explains that the project stemmed from her passion to spread the “alternative truth”: 

“During my one-year opportunity working as a paralegal for CrCF, I got to talk with several torture survivors and their families, as well as to observe legal procedures of the torture cases. I noticed that so many emotions of the abused were excluded from the legal procedures or even from the notes claiming to record “facts”. In my opinion, these alternative truths—concealed under the name of “feelings”—also need to be documented properly. That’s why I came up with this project,” Nathaporn said.

Nathaporn created the piece by first picking out feelings and emotions shown by torture survivors and their families while they were telling their stories. She then turned those emotions into 4 short stories and wrote the stories on the green canvas, and finished off by partly spraying over the canvas with black paint to form a QR code, which will lead audiences to the article discussing facts and relevant statistics regarding the human rights violations in the Deep South.

4 handwritten short stories, partly concealed under the black spray painted QR code (Photo credit:Nathaporn Songsawas)

4 handwritten short stories, partly concealed under the black spray painted QR code (Photo credit:Nathaporn Songsawas)

The short stories revolve around what are claimed to be the “ordinary” days in the lives of the torture survivors. It brings up front the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the protagonist of each story—a nameless man, a mother, and a child—emerging in those daily life situations where universal, familiar routines occur alongside the aftermath or the moment of “common” human rights abuses in Thai Deep South. The “hard facts” of the abuse situations presented on the canvas in QR Code shape, concealing the stories underneath, serves two purposes: disseminating the information of human rights violations in the Deep South to the public and, at the same time, representing the documentation in legal procedure that often puts forth “hard facts” and disregards these “feelings” which, in Nathaporn’s opinion, fails to make the public understand the whole picture of the Deep South situation and deeply sympathize with the locals.

“In our society filled with biases and power relations, I want to connect different groups of people using the most human quality: emotions. Through Kills Are Coated, I hope people with different backgrounds can understand and sympathize with one another on the simple fact that we’re all human who can feel pain, and thus no one should be tortured, regardless of their races or political standpoints.” Nathaporn concluded.

Interactive installation where the locals can become part of the art by sitting, relaxing in a cafe-like setting (photo credit: Nathaporn Songsawas)

Interactive installation where the locals can become part of the art by sitting, relaxing in a cafe-like setting (photo credit: Nathaporn Songsawas)

Kills Are Coated is one of the 8 art pieces from young human rights volunteers who are interested in various human rights violation issues in Thailand’s southern region.

Their works were displayed in their self-host art exhibition, Submerged, which took place at Patani Artspace, a local art gallery acting as the art learning space for the community. This gallery was founded by Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh, an artist based in Patani who has been using his art work to speak up against violence in the three southern border provinces of Thailand. Submerged exhibition was well welcomed by over 150 local and non-local visitors. Many of them leave feedbacks expressing their appreciation towards the event, including a middle age mother born and bred in Yala who reflected upon the exhibition with glistening eyes:

“To be frank, the concept of this exhibition is not really groundbreaking. Artists in the Deep South have been using their arts to call out against Thai state violence for a long time. But this is the first time I have ever seen anyone from outside the Deep South came in to host this kind of event in our hometown. This is very meaningful to me, since it means that our voices have finally reached other parts of the country after so long, and that someone really does care about us.”


Link to short stories (Thai): https://voicefromthais.wordpress.com/2022/06/09/shortstories/

Link to QR code article (Thai): https://voicefromthais.wordpress.com/2022/05/30/coated/