Born in 1960, Mit Jai Inn grew up in Thailand during the Cold War period. In addition to his own participation in cultural politics, the artist has shaped his practice around history, politics, and public issues. With abstract art lying at its core, the form and presentation of his work defies convention. He is considered one of the forerunners on the Thai contemporary art scene. His latest body of work made in 2020 echoes recent political protests in Thailand. As the ongoing student movement intensifies, Mit not only participates in the protests himself, but also instills a clear political statement in his work and exhibition.
Thailand's constitution stipulates that the Thai royal family should stay above politics and remain politically neutral. King Rama X, or Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended to the throne in 2016, consolidated the power of the royal family and the military through constitutional amendments several times, during the term of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who rose to power after the 2014 coup. King Rama X even promulgated a new law that gives the King direct control of tens of billions of assets of the royal family, not to mention the absurdly extravagant lifestyle that has frequently captured the attention of international media. The King and I, the title of Mit's solo exhibition at TKG+, reverberates with a dark sense of humor that evokes the famous American drama with the same title, which has been banned in Thailand for years, while instantiating the artist's call for royal reform.
Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since the overthrow of absolute monarchy in 1932. Though the only uncolonized country in Southeast Asia, Thailand has felt the profound influence of the Cold War on its modern politics, suffering from prevalent military interventions. The Thai political landscape has been on a precarious balance of terror among the royal family, military power, and political elite, who together witness the October 6 1976 massacre, as well as three major military coups in 1991, 2006, and 2014. Thailand's democratic system and military dictatorship are in a constant tug of war. The military also maintains its advantage in the democratic system through constitutional amendments and censorship of speech. The Future Forward Party, which became the third biggest party in the parliament in the 2019 Thai general election merely one year after its inception, won the hearts of young Thai people with its advocacy of military withdrawal from politics and of a more equal economy. In February 2020, the party was ordered by the constitutional court to dissolve over a controversy. This became the onset of an ongoing student movement, and exiled dissidents were arrested. The Free Youth Movement initiated street protests in July, joined by the Milk Tea Alliance, which saw the number of participants grow from 3,000 to tens of thousands in a month, drawing the attention of international media.
The economic issues that have weighed on Thailand include wealth gap widening in its M-shaped society, population growing below poverty line, discontent and despair of young generations with class difference and the future. In contrast to Thai people's worsening economic state, the complete control of the royal estate and political interference of the Thai King, as well as the Prayuth government's dictatorship, have fomented civilian outrage. Just like Michel Foucault's interpretation of Jeremy Bentham's panopticon, Thailand's political technology and power mechanisms continue to be strengthened by the changing laws made by those in power, against a backdrop where the elders and the powerful are respected and obeyed, while Thai people live in extreme political repression on the fringe of the democratic system.
Upon his return to Thailand from Austria in 1992, Mit cofounded Chiang Mai Social Installation with a group of artists, scholars, and social activists. Together they debuted a project titled 'Magic Set Visual' at the Dhamma Gallery Three months before a massacre took place in May 1992. Ever since then, this group has continued to share their political opinion through cultural forces, art making, and exhibitions that champion protests, as well as joining activist groups in street demonstrations. One of Mit's ongoing series that supports such cause include the 'Siam Republic Flag,' which was conceived in 2010. In fact, Mit never acknowledges the existence of the kingdom, nor does he believe that the Thai King deserves such respect, or that the people should be jailed for violation of the royal defamation law if they are not discreet with their words and actions. While most Thai people lead their usual lives, and royalist protests take place to support the King, the ongoing anti-monarchist protests in Thailand are unprecedented in recent Thai history. In addition to a constitutional amendment proposal and a demand for Prime Minister Prayuth to step down, the biggest difference from the past is the cry for reform in the royal family. The unwavering status of the royal family in Thailand's collective state consciousness makes it dangerously difficult to challenge, as the royal family, religion, and politics have become a closely interwoven trinity. On a deeper level, this is a war between two generations: young people and reformers vs. vested interests and conservatives. It is also a grassroots movement in which a large number of middle school students have participated in the appeal for peace. For Mit, the young generation of today are the victims of past political climate. He cannot stand by and watch the corruption and abuse of power of the royal family. Despite the stringent censorship of the autarchic government, Mit thinks it's imperative to voice his opinion through action and his work, to expose the dark side of the royal family, to stand with the students at this critical juncture.
For Mit's solo exhibition The King and I, the metallic tone is inspired by mummification in ancient royal families of different countries. The artist overlays his sculptures and paintings with gold and silver metallic paint, as if embalming each work like a human body. He made a substantial amount of sculptures in 2020. On an elemental level, the artist's body transforms through historical and conceptual analysis into a sculpture, upon which a coat of paint over a piece of canvas mimics the skin. In the 'Neuron' series, metal as the primary medium of the sculptural works remains malleable, allowing each work to stand on its own as a living organism, coming alive when suspended, depleted and drained when left on the ground. Art making, for Mit, is a sublimation of bodily perception, propelled by emotions, a process where each step must be completed. Just as in the 'Psychedelic' series, the scraped lines, the textured paint, indescribable details coalescing into a spirituality. The series is characterised by especially bright, artificial, and unnatural tones that invoke a dreamy, heavenly atmosphere, as well as the hippie culture of the 1970s and New Age of the 1990s. Much like the impressionist's visual reaction to classicism, this series transports the viewer to an impossible utopia on an escapade from reality and capitalism. Constantly walking the line between painting and sculpture, Mit creates sculpturesque paintings with mixed media, and painterly sculptures interwoven with paint-splattered canvas. The metallic and psychedelic tones encapsulate the artist's 'tribute' to the Thai royal family, while his profound concerns for Thailand's future mingle with his work.
Press release courtesy TKG+.
In the 1956 film adaptation of composer duo Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical The King and I (1951), the king dies just before the final curtain.