Absolute Prisoners 1902 by Manit Sriwanchpoom


Fri 6 July - Sat 25 August 2018

Part of Photo Bangkok Festival 2018

How to get there

  • A short walk up from the intersection of Charoenkrung and Silom roads, first street after the Hindu temple.

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Arrested for insurrection for defending their homeland, chained in pairs, the beaten men stare back unflinching at their oppressor’s camera lens, elevating these mug-shots of political prisoners from 1902 into something noble and impossible to ignore.

Surely a totem image for our time, thought photo-artist Manit Sriwanichpoom when he discovered these enigmatic black and white portraits one day at the National Archive. By reproducing the images through an old photographic process from 1851, of wet-collodion on 8” x 10” black glass plates, Manit took the digital files of these Ngiow (Tai Yai) warriors back to their time, allowing us to view the men with a sense of awe and respect. They do not appear like terrorist killers of Siamese soldiers and bureaucrats who had come to take away their power and their rights. Driven to help them tell their untold story and their reasons for resisting Siamese hegemony, Manit was inspired to create an installation of the men as skeletons in the cupboard of Siamese history.

Manit Sriwanichpoom: “These 16 strong men of small stature, bony-thin, in ethnic clothes; they’re chained like fierce beasts but their proud eyes are defiant, their stance full of dignity. I was struck by the intensity of their gaze. These are not the eyes of guilty criminals. Their stories are unknown, since history belongs only to the victor; after their prison mug-shots were taken, the photos lay buried and inaccessible among thousands of old photos at the National Archive. No one there could tell me who they were; not their names nor when the photos were taken and in what era. I later learned they were no common bandits but Ngiow insurgents from Prae who were brought like hostages to Bangkok. They’d fought against the centralization of power by the new system of absolute monarchy under the Siamese King, Rama V. To me these Prae rebels represent victims of injustice whose plight resonates with contemporary Thai society.”

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