The Nakhon Si Thammarat Provincial Court has dismissed a defamation charge filed against art critic Pearamon Tulavardhana by Chiang Mai University lecturer Pongsiri Kiddee, who sued Pearamon after she wrote an article criticizing an exhibition featuring his work.
Pearamon posted on her Facebook profile page on Tuesday (13 December) that the Nakhon Si Thammarat Provincial Court had dismissed the criminal defamation charge against her, but noted that Pongsiri can still file an appeal. Pongsiri also sued her for 1,000,000 baht in civil damages and the Civil Court has yet to make a verdict.
Sorayut Aiemueayut, a lecturer at Chiang Mai University’s Media, Arts, and Design Department, testified as a witness in the case. He said after the verdict was issued that the ruling would set a precedent protecting art criticism as something that can be done and should be encouraged.
In October 2021, Pearamon said Pongsiri had sued her for defamation by publication for an article “National treasure or whose treasure? What kind of art did the government use my taxes to buy?” (“สมบัติชาติหรือสมบัติใคร ภาษีเรา รัฐเอาไปเปย์งานศิลป์อะไรเนี่ยถามจริ๊ง”), published in March 2021 in Way Magazine.
The article reviewed an exhibition organized by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC) featuring artwork purchased by the OCAC as “national treasures,” in which Pongsiri’s work was included. 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 Pongsiri’s earlier works with his more recent works 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.
The lawsuit was filed in Nakhon Si Thammarat, even though Pearamon is based in Bangkok and Pongsiri lives in Chiang Mai. The exhibition in question took place in Bangkok. Pearamon also noted in an October 2021 interview that she found it unusual that Pongsiri filed a lawsuit against her, since the article mainly criticize the OCAC.
Pongsiri is a lecturer in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Chiang Mai University. In March 2021, he was reported to be one of the faculty personnel attempting to remove students’ art projects from the Media Arts and Design Department building without first informing the students, claiming that some items were removed because they might constitute violations of the law. The students later filed charges of theft and destruction of property against Pongsiri, along with Asawinee Wanjing, the Faculty Dean, Pakornpatara Janthakhaisorn, the Deputy Dean of Administration, Sulalak Khaopong, the Faculty Secretary, and Chaiyan Khomkaew, a staff member the university art gallery, as their projects were damaged during the incident and some were missing.
The lawsuit led to opposition from the academic and artist community in Chiang Mai, who see it as an attack on academic freedom and freedom of expression. In November 2022, the artist and academic network Cultural Practitioners and Academics for Democracy group launched a campaign on change.org calling for support for Pearamon, noting that the circumstances of the lawsuit seem designed to make it difficult for Pearamon, forcing her to travel long distances and shoulder the expenses. The group also said that the lawsuit could damage the reputation of the Faculty of Fine Arts, since one of its lecturers reacted to good faith criticism in a way that is in conflict with international norms within academia and artistic circles.
The group also demanded that Chiang Mai University launch an investigation against Pongsiri, saying that he had damage the university’s reputation by filing a lawsuit against Pearamon since the Faculty of Fine Arts 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.