Artistic freedom under threat at Chiang Mai University

 | Tue 26 Oct 2021 15:51 ICT

Chiang Mai University students are demanding the resignation of the President of the University and the Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, amongst others.

A group of 50 students, led by the Vice President of the Student Association Chiang Mai University, said that they represented over 1,700 students who have signed a petition for the removal of these people.

According to the students, Prof. Dr. Niwes Nantajit, President of Chiang Mai University, Asawinee Wanjing, Dean of Faculty of Fine Arts, along with the entire executive board of the university and the Faculty of Fine Arts must be removed.

Before handing in a letter demanding an investigative committee be set up to look into alleged shady dealings and anti-democratic activities of those accused, the students lit a candle and used it to write down the names of those they wish to remove.

The Vice President of the Student Association, Thana Withayabenjang also announced his own resignation from the New Day student party, claiming that the association was toothless. Citing the inaction of the association when he faced two separate charges of Section 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code – which criminalises defamation, insults, and threats to members of the monarchy – he told CityNews that there is no point of a student association if it is not going to do its duty to protect students.

None of the executives charged were present and students left their letter with a university official.

The letter charged those it wishes to remove from office with lack of transparency, shady dealings, bullying and unfairness in how they treat students from the Faculty of Fine Art’s Department of Media, Arts and Design. According to the charges, students no longer have freedom to express themselves artistically. Each year, according to students, there is a student art exhibition held at the Chiang Mai University Art Centre. However, earlier this year the exhibition was shut down and art pieces removed without any explanation, claims students. Many pieces were dumped into garbage bins without students’ knowledge, citing offensive art.

CityNews covered the incident in March of this year, reporting, “Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Fine Arts has come under heavy fire after a video went viral on Monday showing yellow-shirted faculty members throwing student art works into black bin liners.”

According to students, the next exhibition has also been cancelled by the university.

Members of the faculty have expressed concern over the political and sensitive nature of some of the art pieces and their solution to avoid confrontation was first to remove the pieces, and then to cancel the exhibition in its entirety.

Students say that they have been faced with delay tactics – executives leaving meetings via fire escapes to avoid facing questions by students – as well as obfuscation and obstacles which they say is antidemocratic and lacking in vision.

“Ineffective, lacking in vision, out of touch, unjust and dereliction of duty are just some of the charges against these people,” said one student to CityNews. “We students and society at large demand answers. If they are going to ban artistic expression then they at least should come out and explain to us clearly why”

According to the letter, executives have been blaming slow government systems for delays in addressing the issue and they have also used bullying tactics to attack students such as cutting electricity to exhibition spaces.

Students are demanding an independent committee investigate the matter thoroughly.

The protest was observed by Member of Parliament Tassanee Buranupakorn, of the Phua Thai political party and Petchrat Maichomphu of the Move Forward Party. Both told students that they will report today’s activities and take the letter to their political headquarters in Bangkok.