Sunday, February 15, 2009

Samak's Nose

Above is a shot of former Thai Prime Minister and Bangkok Mayor Samak Sundaravej. He had some highly lampoonable quirks, as you'll see.

Amongst numerous segments of Thai society that reviled him were the artists. That's largely because of his efforts to open a shopping mall/car park where an art museum had been planned. To Bangkok's benefit, the artists ultimately got their way. Way back in 2001, however, things were up in the air, and the artistic community staged a protest event. Participants were given canvas and paint. You can now see hundreds, perhaps thousands, of their efforts on the top floor of the art museum.

Samak was a cat fancier. The fish represents the museum. "Cats eat fish; the mayor eats the art museum". In English, we don't really have a slang word for "eat". In Thai, however, the word "daeg", used in the work, is considered quite nasty. These artists weren't pulling any punches.

A five minute browsing of a guide to Thai etiquette informs you that you should be careful where you point your feet. Samak is represented as the red foot above, squashing hopes for a museum. How do I know that the red foot represents Samak? Read on and take a second glimpse at the pic.

The above pic actually takes a swipe at foreigners: "Black head [like a real Thai], face like a foreigner". Apparently, a Japanese consortium was behind the shopping mall efforts.

The pic above references Samak's TV cooking show. The translation is a bit tricky...something like "we want an art museum; don't eat it you stupid man".

"Evil mind, Evil thoughts, Evil culture".

Now, if you haven't already noticed, all the pics target Samak's distinctive nose.

More nastiness. The nose, which needn't even be embodied anymore, is also given the attributes of a buffalo. More so than any other animal (with the possible exception of a water monitor), you shouldn't liken a Thai to a buffalo. It's the sort of offense that could earn you a punch.

Adding another level of abstraction, the nose takes the form of a rampaging rose apple!

Above is just a small selection of the works.

Google "Samak's nose" and you'll find that TV sign language interpreters simply touched their noses to indicate "Samak Sundaravej". Though the translation had persisted for a decade, some of Samak's supporters caught on and protested. To quote one article: "Stung by the controversy, the association [for the deaf in Thailand] has been examining other ways to indicate Mr Samak, for instance a reference to his passion for cooking."

I'm not sure how sign-language interpreters now refer to Samak.

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