[ A Provocative Eye ]

Manit Sriwanichpoom uses photographs to skewer the failings of contemporary Thailand, from the rise of bland consumerism to the country's economic mismanagement

By Michael Vatikiotis/BANGKOK

"RECESSION IS ANOTHER FORM OF WAR" , declares Manit Sriwanichpoom. It's a typically outrageous statement from the 41-year-old artist, who uses photographic images to wrestle with Thailand's economic boom and spectacular bust, often borrowing images of victims of war to portray the changing fortunes of the Thai consumer and office worker.

Take his Pink Man series. Each of these photo-montages features a portly man dressed in lurid pink, usually accompanied by a shopping cart or a mobile phone. At first, Manit posed the Pink Man in front of familiar places, a temple or some ruins.
Then he took things further. One image, for instance, juxtaposed the Pink Man with an image of a policeman shooting at students during the bloody I976 suppression of protests at Bangkoles Thammasat University.

"The Pink Man represents the modern conscience," Manit explains. "He's the modem Thai consumer. He's fat and happy he has a happy life.
These students died so that the Pink Man can go shopping."

Manit responded to the financial crisis of 1997 with his Bloodless War images, which place middle-class Thais in recreations of iconic pictures from the Vietnam War.
Thus, the famous image of a South Vietnamese army officer shooting a Vietcong suspect becomes a cigar-smoking Thai boss .shooting" a worker.

Bad taste? Bangkok art-dealer Valentine Willie, who is helping Manit with a new show, doesrft believe so: "If s good to see a layer of humour without losing the bite and edge these images convey," he says.
Manit's response is more cryptic: 'War is never over and people are still dying."

Manit has never been content just with exhibifing his pictures in galleries-they dorit reach enough people, he says.
So he's done street-side installations, stopping traffic and pedestrians with images of middle-class shoppers being towed behind a limousine, evoking the famous shot of Vietcong dead being towed behind an armoured personnel carrier.

Despite his outrageous approach, Manit has never experienced any form of official censorship. As Valentine Willie explains, "Of all the Southeast Asian countries, Thailand has taken well to contemporary mediums like video and photography.'

More recently, Manit has been travelling around Bangkok shooting the abandoned and unfinished office blocks and condominiums that litter the city.
Through his eyes they look like bombed-out shells. After any war, there is debris and wreckage, and so these buildings are the debris of recession.

As ever with Manit, the images are an attempt to shock people into thinldng about contemporary Thai society.
'As Thais we are taught to suppress personal anguish and pain," he says. 'Provocative art is a reaction to cultural conformity.