[ In the Trenches ]

The stark, often disturbing photos in Manit Sriw'anichpoom's latest exhibition are a reaction to the economic crisis precipitated by the government of Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, writes Phatarawadee Phataranawik.

Manit Sriwanichpoom is a man who likes to take his art nght to the people.
He does this to create visual diversions in the hope it will lead to greater awareness.
His photography is often stark, usually disturbing and always provocative - which is precisely the intention.

And there's no better time than a crisi's for some creative persuasion. People are uncertain, open to rumours, gossip and suggestion. And right now, out there,' according to Manit, this economic crisis has evolved into a war in its own right.
The ammunition may be baht rather than bullets, and although bloodless, the wounds are real enough - emotional, spiritual, psychological.

This social activist photographer, like the rest of th6 population, has watched in horror and frustration as the 11 month-old government of Chavalit Yongchaiyudh has twisted the truth, hid the reality, and more often than not - did exactly the opposite of what it said it was going to do.

Manit's main criticism is the billions of baht the Chavalit administration simply poured away, to defend what was indefensible, leaving the vast majority of the country to suffer from the fallout of the economic boom they never benefitted from in the first place.

His reaction to the crisis is an exhibition entitled This Bloodless War, which started last Thursday, the day Chavalit resigned.
The exhibition is actually a mobile demonstration that Manit is taking to various topical venues - such as in front of Government House, the Bank of Tbafland and the CP Tower in Sflom, among others - so it will have the strongest impact.

He has called on his fellow artists, the Ukabat Group, who literally wear the photographs around their necks.And what photos they are. This Bloodless War is a series of six photographs based on the graphic and now famous shots taken during the Vietnam War and the Japanese invasion of China, but ' with a,novel twist.
'They have been updated, using new props and actors, to portray a new type of conflict'

"This war is different from other wars. In an economic war, people can walk around and buildings still stand, but bur spirit is being destroyed," says Manit.

The well-known image of the Vietnamese shooting a Vietcong prisoner has been changed to show a big business heavy removing the competition, while the infamous photo of the Mai Lai massacre now represents how the need for expensive brand names literally drove people broke - killed by their own consumerism.

The baby crying on the railway track is based on the abandoned baby in Shanghai, left screaming in the burntout city, Manies point being -just how will the new generation of Thais cope with growing up in a country in debt?

The photographer is no stranger to social activism. Last year he held the Huay Kwang Mega City exhibition on an abandoned building site, along with the Ukabat Group,
who were led by the controversial artist and activist Vasan Sitthiket.

The presentation of This Bloodless War has come as something of a shock to the Thai public, who are unused to street performance art - especially around the commercial centres of Bangkok. Many have simply walked quickly by or crossed the street to avoid being confronted.

However, some foreigners and the more adventurous Thais have paused to look, no doubt initially drawn to the scene by the sound of the loudspeaker Manit uses to explain his purpose.

"This photography collection is like an X-Ray of the cancer we are suffering. It is the truth under the surface of our society, and the truth is, that we are losing the bloodless war. If we wait, we are going to die," laments Manit, "we must operate now."

Let's just hope that whoever it is, is qualified.