Students, academics, and artists have demanded that Chiang Mai University (CMU) launch an investigation against Faculty of Fine Arts lecturer Pongsiri Kiddee, after he filed a defamation lawsuit against art critic and writer Pearamon Tulavardhana for an article criticizing an exhibition featuring his work.
Artist representatives reading out their statement while filing their petition to Vice President Prasert Rerkkriangkrai and Assistant to the President Chirawath Phatsara
The Cultural Practitioners and Academics for Democracy group, a network of academic and artists, along with some CMU students, went to file a misconduct complaint with CMU president Dr Pongruk Sribanditmongkol and call for the university to launch an investigation against Pongsiri over the lawsuit.
In October 2021, Pearamon said that Pongsiri sued her for defamation by publication after she published an article in Way Magazine in March 2021 on an exhibition organized by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC), in which Pongsiri’s work was included. In addition to the criminal defamation charge, he is also suing her for 1,000,000 baht in damages.
Pearamon’s article reviewed the exhibition featuring artwork purchased by the OCAC as “national treasures.” It raised questions about the OCAC’s criteria for choosing these works, since there was no work by artists who produce non-traditional styles of art, and whether these works can be considered contemporary, noting that there was no description of the works or an explanation of how these works were curated in the exhibition.
She said that she was sued for comparing his earlier work with his more recent work in her article and saying that they showed no development. She was also sued for writing that the editor should not delete Pongsiri’s academic title from the article, because he might not be happy with it, which was interpreted to mean that she was accusing him of being snobbish.
However, the network was not able to file their petition directly with the University President and were told by Vice President Prasert Rerkkriangkrai and Assistant to the President Chirawath Phatsara that they should not meet the President because they had not made an appointment in advance, even though Dr Pongruk was attending a meeting at the Faculty of Law and walked past the group to get to his car.
Chirawath insisted that the network file their petition with the Vice President. A representative of the group then read out their petition, stating that Pongsiri has damaged the reputation of the Faculty of Fine Arts and CMU by filing a lawsuit against Pearamon, since the Faculty teaches its students art criticism and the lawsuit is an act of injustice against the critic. The fact that he filed his complaint in Nakhon Si Thammarat even though he lives in Chiang Mai and Pearamon lives in Bangkok also makes it a case of harassment. The group therefore called on the university president to launch a misconduct investigation against Pongsiri.
When asked whether there will be an investigation, Prasert said there are currently no details.
Nontawat Machai (centre)
Performance artist Nontawat Machai said that the group first went to the President’s Office, but came to the Faculty of Law after they were told that the President was there. He said that that they waited for around 2 hours, but the President did not come to meet them and instead send representatives even though he was close by.
“We expected Chiang Mai University to face the problem that happened and solve it in a straightforward manner,” said Nontawat, who noted that the group also wished to notify the President that the next court hearing in the lawsuit against Pearamon takes place this Tuesday and Wednesday (8 – 9 November).
Nontawat said that, while the lawsuit may be seen as a private matter, it damages the art world and art academia, and that if the university takes no action, it would imply that the university supports the lawsuit.
“If the university stays silent, it is the equivalent of supporting this kind of behaviour to go on under the university’s name, which is a major issue. So we expect that the university will do something so that it will be a lesson and a standard that the culture of criticism in Thai society should be more progressive. Right now, we are becoming a university that is not accepted globally, and is itself falling behind.”