Review of a physical theatre “Banglamerd”
Under the military junta government, “Banglamerd..The land I do now own” (2013 and restaged in 2015) is the piece of work that challenges existence. Critically discussed about freedom of expression, Ornanong Thaisriwong, the performer provides enough space for the audience to freely think about the deepest issue of our time - The State’s control over freedom of speech and cultural and artistic production.
Ornanong’s solo performance, Banglamerd, makes the use of art for representation and contestation of power and her political standpoint seems to irritate the Thai military government. This results in a close inspection of the production by the military officers as the content of the performance was claimed to be opposed to the government and threatened national security (email: Dakin, 2015). Thailand is not only the case, confrontation between artists and authoritarian states occur in many countries around the world. Just to name a few, one may think of Tania Bruguera’s open mic performance in Havana (Dec 2014), a Thai play “The Wolf Bride” (Oct 2014), Belarus underground theatre group “Belarus Free Theatre” (2005-present), and long censorship in the arts in Egypt.
Banglamerd is another reminder of how politics have a close relationship with the arts as a cultural production. A performance is an acting subject that provokes ideas and urges movements for destabilisation and change within a given social and political context. By using what cultural theorist Stuart Hall (2001) called “symbolic power” through representational practices, the performance addresses the topic which challenges the traditional order and doing so causes fears and worries to the dominated group of people. The sophisticated idea embodied in the work of art is an intellectual representation that forms power which is often considered as “risk” since it can foster social and moral revolution.
Within this atmosphere of fear, many States impose their power to silence and this limitation, control and suppress of the artistic freedom makes it difficult to produce and support a challenging work. According to The Democratic Legitimacy of International Human Rights Law, an unequal access to exercise rights of free speech is a disrespectful treatment and therefore a very undemocratic principle. Also, apart from limiting fundamental human rights, censorship triggers offence, leads to the formation of a violent public, disrupts creative economy, and creates the loss of cultural diversity.
The decision limiting by the State is often implemented without certain policy and legal basis - what constitutes public harm, and what violates laws. In a like manner, it has been reported that Banglamerd’s content offends public order, yet no clear explanation is given on the way such act is performed. Although, the local authorities maintain good relations with the performer including the production team (they are not arrested like the previous play “The Wolf Bride”, and the performance is still running in normal show time), such controlling act grows fears which in one way or another foster a greater system of censorship, pressurize artists, producers, audience, as well as donors to self-censorship – being fearful, avoiding to address, investigate, and support certain social issues. This course of action inevitably restricts the process of creativity, cultural diversity, and transparency policy.
The complexity of the interpretation between artistic freedom of expression versus hate speech is at the heart of this issue. For some, Banglamerd may be understood as a legitimate space for public dispute and therefore harmful or offensive, while others may believe that criticism in art is an essential tool for stimulating intellectual diversity of minds. Consequently, there is a broad spectrum of opinions whether artists should or should not explore issues that are sensitive and potentially bring tension to the society. In other words, it is about the same question of what is the role of art in the society? Should art please the society and doing so, artists should limit or even silence their voices OR should art ask questions and challenge the society by opening conversations? Ornanong’s Banglamerd is facing this same destiny of wide interpretation.
Banglamerd is assumed to have as many positive reviews as disagreements as the very complex argument regarding the artistic freedom and censorship has become a serious issue without clear guidance on law and rights. However, what remains certain is that Ornanong is stepping out from safe space to brave space, pushing the boundaries of her personal and society’s comfort zone.
As exploring the relationship between arts and politics, and observing how free speech has been controlled and by whom, one-sided and the use of power is shown over grounds of reasoning and mutual understanding. To the best of my knowledge and belief, remaining silent, regaining innocence, and forgetting about problems do not encourage diversity of opinions as a means to grow understanding of differences and possibilities. Banglamerd gives me a chance to question myself and the society again which I hope they will not be censored and one day will find authorised spaces for voices: Who benefits from censorship? Can we as audience not choose what we want or do not want to see with our own discretion, regardless of whether or not the art is tasteful? And what is actually wrong about being critical?
Dakin, N., 2015, e-mail, 1 February, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hall, S., (2001) ‘The Spectacle of the Other’, in Wetherell, M.,S., Taylor, & S., J., Yates (ed.)
Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader, London: SAGE Publications
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in all posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the association or the MA program.