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.
The men were interrupted by students demanding an explanation, and soon another member of the faculty, Dr. Tasanai Setseri was seen on the video coming to the defence of the students and demanding an explanation, turning the incident into national news.
At 2pm on the 22nd March it was reported that works of art by numerous students were removed and placed in garbage bags. Displeased, students lay down in protest, but after the works were removed, a group of students went to Phuping Police station to report the incident, followed by gathering at the Fine Arts Faculty to demand an explanation from the dean.
Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Fine Arts has a very active alumni and over the past 48 hours artists, young and nationally famous, have been coming out on social media, and in person to protest the draconian measures.
“Art is freedom of expression,” Dr. Tasanai said to the media. “What has been done to them is not right and not ethical. You can’t tell students what they can or can’t do as artists. You can’t say this art is bad and that is good, it is like if you don’t like a writer’s works and you just go and take away their pen. Students are expressing themselves, it is not anyone’s job to go and stomp on them.”
He went on to say that this was on campus aggression towards students.
So far the dean has come out with two reasons why the art works were removed and binned, claiming that some were offensive to the national flag and the monarchy while at the same time also saying that the area was messy and they were simply attempting to clean it up in preparation of an upcoming exhibition. Both excuses have been rejected by the students and their supports who are actively protesting in front of the faculty.
One post on the Mor Chor Community Facebook page said that students knew and took responsibility for any risks their works may offend authorities. However, these were risks which students knew and took. Not one member of the faculty would be exposed to any risk, nor have they ever been, it was therefore not their place to remove multiple art works because there was one piece which showed the national flag with some supposedly-offensive comments written on them.
A group of students yesterday led a drive to collect garbage within the vicinity of the faculty, saying that if it was garbage which needed collecting, they were happy to do so. The garbage is currently piled in front of the faculty, blocking parts of the road. There is also growing demand for the Associate Professor Asawinee Wanjing, dean of the faculty who is a graduate of Bangkok’s Silapakorn University, and controversially not an alumnus of Chiang Mai University, to resign. She has come under fire over the past many months by members of the faculty as well as alumni and students for not respecting the traditions of the faculty, such as banning the popular Teachers’ Day celebrations which traditionally draws crowds from across Thailand every year and is known for its very flamboyant festivities.
“The area from which our art was cleared is designated a ‘practical research’ zone,” claimed Witaya Klungnil, 23, a fourth year student at the faculty. “It doesn’t matter how messy it is, this is our work space. They had no right to just come and clear our works away. By what order or right did they have to destroy our hard work?”
The letter from the dean said that the area was cleared for an upcoming art exhibition by many artists from many colleges and universities, however students are calling her out on this claim as the area from which the art was removed was not an exhibition area, but their working area.
Yesterday a group of student representatives went to the dean’s office to lodge an official complaint, but she wasn’t there. Nor were any other members of the administration present.