Wat Wanlayangkoon
Photo from the documentary 'Away' by Teeraphan Ngowjeenanan.

Wat Wanlayangkoon: A Life Given to Art and Justice

Sudarat Musikawong delves into the life of the late Wat Wanlayangkoon, an award winning novelist who left a lasting impact on the world of arts and activism in Thailand.

In March 2022, award winning Thai novelist, Wat Wanlayangkoon passed away in France, aged 67. He spent the last 8 years of his life in exile from his homeland. Wanlayangkoon was a well-respected activist and pro-democracy advocate whose activism can be traced to the 1970s student activism that was brutally put down by the military on 6 October 1976. Following the massacre at Thammasat University, in which, officially, 46 were killed (41 civilians- students and demonstrators; 2 state officers and 3 para-military), Wanlayangkoon fled to join the Communist Party of Thailand in the jungle, where he lived for 5 years before returning to Bangkok and continuing his literary career.

His novels, short stories and non-fiction works were imbued with issues of social justice and democratic ideas. One of his best loved novels, Mon Rak Transistor, tells the story of a young man with dreams of becoming a singer, who falls victim to the inequalities and exploitation in Thai society.  The novel was adapted by Pen-ek Ratanaruang into the film Transistor Love Story in 2001, to critical and popular acclaim.

Following the ousting of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in the 2006 coup, Wanlayangkoon joined the populist Red Shirt movement. In 2013, he was the MC at the staging of the play Wolf Bride, which was charged by the authorities of lèse-majesté.¹ In 2014, a warrant for his arrest was issued. Wanlayangkoon chose to go into exile, first in Laos, and eventually, to France, which granted him political asylum.

In this video, researcher Sudarat Musikawong and filmmaker Nutcha Tantivit explore Wanlayangkoon’s life and the impact of his work in Thailand.  In addition to featuring interview footage of Wat Wanlayangkoon, they interviewed his son, the artist Wana Wanlayangkoon, Ida Aroonwong (Wanlayangkoon’s memoir publishers Aan Publications), Rachel Harrison (SOAS, University of London), and members of the arts community in Thailand.

The video can be seen here or on Youtube.

VIDEO CREDITS:

Project Lead Researcher Sudarat Musikawong

Video Researcher, Director and Editor Nutcha Tantivitayapitak

Interviewees Wat Wanlayangkoon, Rawee Siri-issaranant, Ida Aroonwong, Wana Wanlayangkoon, Rachel Harrison

Interviewers Sudarat Musikawong and Nutcha Tantivitayapitak

Video and Image credits Teeraphan Ngowjeenanan, The Isaander, Prachatai, NBT, Wat Wanlayangkoon’s Facebook

Song credits Sergey Cheremisinov – The Promises and Young Wind

Thanks and Acknowledgements Teeraphan Ngowjeenanan, The Isaander, Prachatai, Ida Aroonwong, Wana Wanlayangkoon, Rachel Harrison

This content is produced as part of a project to research and document arts and culture censorship in Southeast Asia, organised by ArtsEquator. For other articles in this project, click here.

About the author(s)

Nutcha Tantivitayapitak was born in 1993 in Bangkok, Thailand. She had his education in Film and Photography, Faculty of Journalism and Mass communication at Thammasat University. After she graduated, she was a journalist at Prachatai which is an online news agency. Now she is a freelance documentary filmmaker.

Sudarat Musikawong is an associate professor at the Institute for Population and Social Research at Mahidol University in Thailand. She received her Ph.D. and MA in sociology from the University of California at Santa Cruz and her BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She positions her investigations within cultural-political sociology and ethnographic research. Her publications include with Malinee Khumsupa, “Notes on Camp Films in Authoritarian Thailand,” Southeast Asia Research Journal (2019). Her publications include “Gendered Casualties: Thai Memoirs in Activism,” Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism (2013); “Mourning State Celebrations: Amnesic Iterations of Political Violence in Thailand,” in Identities, Global Studies in Culture and Power (2010); “Between Celebration and Mourning,” in Toward a Sociology of the Trace, (University of Minnesota Press, 2010); “Art for October Thai Cold War State Violence in Trauma Art,” positions: east asia cultures critique, Volume 18, Number 1, Spring 2010.

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