Censorship and Performance Arts
Project Proposal to ANA by Teerawat Mulvilai

1. Aims / Objective / Goals of project

- To raise awareness on the rights and freedom of expression and to protect democratic principles in Thailand by exchanging views with artists from Myanmar and Laos;

- To exchange and learn methods and techniques for presenting work among artists from three countries and to develop the work together;

- To share and exchange information and experiences on issues related to censorship in contemporary art among artists and general public;

- To support intellectual freedom and to find resolutions to the problem related to censorship that affects people's lives and expressions.

2. Brief description of project

Censorship and Performing Arts

A widespread of incidents that hinder and restrict freedom of expression in Thailand and other neighboring countries during the past ten years is likely to become more serious and severe. This occurrence has happened in both socialist and democratic countries. In the democratic countries, in particular, freedom and human rights are generally recognized, and acceptance of differences and finding balances by peaceful resolutions are paths that bring a country to be economically, socially and politically equal. However, it seems that when states are unable to find ways to end political conflicts and are incapable of arguing intellectually to those treated unfairly, they will use law to suppress movements while limit access to information and freedom of expression in the name of censorship. In the past, these tools were not only ineffective in finding way-outs for a society, but they also piled up problems through “don’t talk, can’t talk” attitude leading to self-censorship. This was because they created a sense of fear for violence in the form of being jailed, and loss of lives and assets. At times, victims are only normal people who just want to say or express their argument. They don’t believe that it is considered a crime because they trust that this is a democratic country.

As one unit living in a society, artists also observe conflicts happening in a society. Pablo Picasso once gave a speech at the American Artists Council meeting in December 1936, and said that “Artists who work for spiritual values could and should not ignore conflicts when the high values of humanity and civilization are in peril”. This is particularly the case in point for artists who do not serve state power and keep distance from benefits and powerful groups, and those who choose to stay side-by-side with the underprivileged and the unfairly treated by the international standards. Laws, often in the hands of authoritarianism to destroy political foes, are being used under the name of “security”. The illusion of a nation is being modified as nationalism leading to hatred to other ethnicities living in a country. Alienation, discrimination and disrespect of human dignity divide and destroy a bond in a society, leading to tragedy after tragedy. When we turn our back to justice, it means our country is in regression. These social occurrences are damaging human civilizations and must not be ignored.

This proposed project aims to explore space where artists have found and felt the impacts in producing their work in the form of structural and societal critique. The project comprises three artists from three countries, including Teerawat Mulvilai of Thailand (physical movement), Muang Muang Thein of Myanmar (poetry) and Toh of Laos (object theatre). Poetry, movement and object will be developed based on conversation among the artists. Activities will include meetings in Laos and workshops e.g. poetry workshop with communities and interested members of the public. The project also intends to combine ‘poetry’ with ‘movement’ and make them as a small piece of work, while having dialogues on the issues of disclosed and undisclosed behaviors by local artists before concluding as ‘work’ in Bangkok, Thailand. The first piece includes a travel documentary and the creation of work. The second piece is a performance emerged from explorations during three weeks, post-performance dialogues, and a summary of findings collected from creativity and techniques sharing to ensure freedom of expression. The project will also communicate with an online society so more people can share their views which can then be used as part of the project activity.

This project focus on creating dialogues among creators of artistic works with their dual role as the artist and the citizen, to share their views and experiences on society and the world. Artists from different cultural backgrounds and languages who are living in the same region, will come together to create work and design the future that they want. We believe that promotion of intellectual freedom is crucial for the development of strong society, hence human being and society could become truely civilized.

3. Methodology / Implementation of project

- Firstly, to coordinate with artists and share ideas on issues related to censorship and art via a Facebook Page, titled “Censorship Limited etc.”. The page is open to people in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar who are interested to share their information, concerning censorship and art (April 2012);

- Secondly, to coordinate travel arrangements for artists, field data collection and documentary film-making (November - December 2012 and January 2013);

- To exchange information via electronic media every month on topics that are proposed by three artists and to study ideas and incidents in each country in order to find ways to create artistic works without hindrance or censorship (May – September 2012);

- To present artistic works in the form of still and moving images, to show artists' working process and related activities and to discuss ideas on how to present their artistic works via electronic media (October 2012);

- All three artists and a documentary production team (Thai) will meet in Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Vientiane to discuss field data collection plan. Information will be published online throughout the trip (February 2013);

- Artists will participate in workshops: Movement and Composition workshop by Teerawat Mulvilai will begin with building group dynamic to encourage powerful and creative group work. It then brings in a practice on viewpoint technique to learn and understand composition before creating interesting work, and on movement by using image move, which is a technique by Butoh Dance.

As a poet from Myanmar, Muang Muang Thein will teach contemporary poetry writing using surrounding environment as inspiration. As for Kabong Lao puppet group/Object Theatre from Laos, Toh, an artist will develop puppets from materials found in daily life to create interesting characteristics.

The workshop will take place in Vientiane and Bangkok and will acumulate to performances in both cities. The performance will serve as a summary on the topic of cencorship, braninstromed by participants (February 2013).

- Three artists will conclude their information search and create work together. An art exhibition will be held in Bangkok. There will be a seminar, organized in collaboration with People's Poets (Kaweerassadorn) and a documentary film screening. Summaries of the seminar with regards to future proposed solutions to censorship problems and promotion of intellectrual freedom will also be shared online.

4. Time frame of project

April 2012

- To coordinate with artists from Laos and Myanmar via online/social network;

- To create a Facebook Page, titled “Cencorship Limited etc.” which serves as a platform for artists from Thailand, Laos and Myanmar to share information and ideas on issues related to censorship.

May – September 2012

- To set up an online meeting, the meeting agenda will be as folllows:

1 To address issues related to censorship, its impact in general and on freedom of artistic expression by looking into problems in the past from socio-political perspective and from artist's expression.

2 To present relevant articles written by art historians, art critics and progressive liberal thinkers as well as biographies of artists in the past who fight for justice and dare to speak out and present their works to the public distinctively.

October 2012

- To organize a theatrical performance about censorship by Thai artists at the Silpa Nanaphan Festival, Pridi Banomyong Institute, Bangkok.

November – December 2012 and January 2013

- To prepare topics for art workshop on censorship in collaboration with aritsts from Thailand, Laos and Myanmar via online media;

- To coordinate venue for workshop and accommodation;

- To publicize the workshop in Bangkok and Vientiane and to launch an open call for youth participation in the workshop.

February 2013

- Artists from Myanmar travel to Vientiane via Thailand;

- Artists from Myanmar, Thailand and Laos together conduct a 10-day workshop for young people, students and general public in Vientiane. There will be a public presentation after the workshop;

- Burmese, Thai and Loa artists leave Vientiane for Bangkok;

- Artists from Myanmar, Thailand and Laos together conduct a 10-day workshop for young people, students and general public in Bangkok. There will be a public presentation after the workshop.

March 2013

- To conclude the project and submit a final report.

5. Projected output of project (is it a workshop, a discussion, a showing, etc.?)

- A Facebook Page (Event Page) for publicity and communication within the group;

- Workshop for young people, students and interested public and artists' talks;

- Public showcase by workshop participants;

- Screening a documentary film about artists' journey;

6. Who is your target audience for your project?

- General public and young people in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar;

- Artists working in multiple disciplines who are interested in censorship and art;

- Art and non-art students who are interested in social engaged art;

- Performing artists and people who are interested in performance that combine physical theatre, object theatre and poetry;

- Art and social Activists who use art as a tool for change;

7. How do you propose to disseminate information about the project to your target audience?

- To publicize the project through a Facebook Page/Event Page in Thailand, Loas and Myanmar;

- To launch an open call via online media for students and interested group to participate in basic performing arts workshop led by three artists. Newsletter will be sent to educational institutions;

- To build network among artists in each country to encourage exchange and information sharing through artists' talks and other related activities;

- To publish past and present articles on censorship on a Facebook Page, “Censorship Limited etc.” This would help raise awareness of intellectual freedom and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restrictions are imposed on intellectual freedom;

- Project events and activites in Bangkok will be publicized in monthly and weekly magazines;

- Prepare publicity materials for “Censorship Limited etc. such as poster and logo design;

8. How do you think your project will create impact on the art communities/the cultures that you want to engage with? How will it develop the field of your art form?

One of the great dangers with censorship is that it destroys ideas and prevents people from developing their own thoughts and formulating well-informed judgements. We believe that the abilty to express opinions and arguments logically is essential to avoid violence and bring about an understanding among people. This project hopes to be a platform where people can freely and logically exchange their ideas.

Thailand has been a democratic country for more than 80 years. However, freedom which is the basic civil rights has been deprived countless times. We have seen injustice law enforcement, parliamentary dictatorship, many military coups, breach of constitution and many incidents leading to economic and political instability. People fight for their rigths and equality in national resource management and access to information. Their movement has become a bitter reality for every government. Government and authorities have considered the development of communication technology as a threat to national security, hence, they have imposed restrictions on citizens' freedom of expresion and on criticism. In the past three years, The Thai government has suppressed different views and opinions and censored articles, books and literatures, blocked websites and banned acedemic talks and seminars. Human Rights Watch has expressed concerns that lese majeste law has been used as a tool for prosecution of political opponents. As a result, there has been a huge increase in number of political prisoners. Many films were banned in the past year, reasons for censoring films include violating moral norms and disturbing the public order and national security. Arts as a powerful force for social change, would become the next target of censorship. Special units have been set up by the government for surveillance of the citizen in the name of national security.

By 2015, ASEAN economic integration will be implemented. However, political issues should not be ignored in regional context involving cross-border flow of people and resources. Thailand, Myanmar and Loas will undergo many more changes. We need to support the principles of intellectual freedom to ensure the free exchange of ideas, logical debates and criticism. This would help create better understanding among poeple to live together in a civilized society.

This project focus on creating dialogues and exchanges among three artists from three countries in the region, who are working in different art forms: poetry (Myanamar), puppet (Laos) and body movement (Thailand). The project fuctions as an art lab that brings together artists from different cultural backgrounds and languages to share views and ideas through contemporary art. It aims to raise awareness on issues affecting a society and try to find ways to end conflicts.