Chiang Mai University Resists Calls to Remove Monarch Sculpture
By Margarita Cheng
On October 22, Chiang Mai University’s (CMU) Faculty of Architecture released a statement defending an artwork of Thailand’s longest-reigning monarch, King Rama IX, Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great (1927–2016), following demands on social media for its removal from the facade of the faculty building.
Designed by the Faculty’s assistant professors Burin Tharavichitkul, Komson Teeraparbwong, and Karn Khamkaew, Sculpture of Light (2017) is a round, aluminum-composite structure, four meters in diameter, that casts a shadow of the late monarch’s face between 3–4pm. Detractors recently took to Twitter to call on CMU students, staff, and alumni as well as the general public to support the deinstallation of the work, citing concerns over the use of public space and the university’s political neutrality in light of the ongoing pro-democracy protests, which have included demands to reform Thailand’s constitutional monarchy.The CMU Faculty responded that the sculpture was created to honor King Rama IX after his death, and remains on view for this purpose. The university affirmed its reverence and gratitude for King Rama IX and stated that it would not tolerate acts disrespecting the king, according to the Bangkok Post. The statement concluded with the remark that the Faculty "does not agree with any form of violence by any side" involved in the protests.
The demonstrations began in late February after the Constitutional Court ruled to dissolve the Future Forward Party, which was founded in 2018 on a progressive, anti-military-junta platform. The Party and its supporters argue that the decision was a political attack orchestrated by the prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who came to power in the military coup of May 2014, and whose re-election in 2019 was disputed. Following a hiatus due to the Covid-19 outbreak, protestors returned to the streets in July to demand the prime minister’s resignation, a new constitution constraining the power of the military, and democratic reforms.
The protestors, many of whom are students, have also become increasingly vocal in their criticism of reigning King Maha Vajiralongkorn for amassing personal wealth and power. The expression of growing anti-monarchist sentiment is unusual for Thailand, whose lese majeste laws are among the strictest in the world, with a maximum 15-year prison sentence.
On October 16, the government declared a state of emergency in Bangkok, the epicenter of the demonstrations, where protestors have had numerous violent clashes with the police, resulting in three deaths. A day before CMU published its statement, protestors gave prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha an ultimatum to resign in three days or else face continued demonstrations.
Margarita Cheng is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.
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