Last night at Singapore Art Museum 8Q I attended a talk by contemporary Thai photographer and artist Manit Sriwanichpoom. He is well-known for his Pink Man series, begun in 1997, which is a critique on consumerism in Thailand. The Pink Man is a symbol of the eternally unstatisfied and self-centered consumer, a symbol of capitalism. Originally a performance, the juxtaposition of this pink-clad fat man and his empty pink supermarket cart, as a symbol of ubiquitous consumption against the backdrop of contemporary Thailand is first of all entertaining but carries with it several questionings about progress and what consumerism means in newly developed Asian countries such as Thailand in their struggle with modernity. The Pink Man, portrayed in several series, is set against the backdrop of street markets, but when combined with historical photos of social struggle acquires an even more poignant portrait of a society coming to terms with itself politically. A staunch critic of contemporary Thai politics, the Pink Man serves as a foil to many consumption-driven situations such as tourism, progress, and in the pastiche version of classical European paintings also reflects a certain exoticism of the East towards the West. In this very dense trancultural portrait, Manit also pointed ou the inherent contradiction of the Buddhist principle of material detachment to the hyper-materialism installed by progress. The stark juxtaposition of the images tell it all.
The idea of Pink Man came to me when I went out shopping at the newest mall in town. This mall is very big – like a factory – so bright with thousands of fluorescent lamps, all kinds of goods kept on shelves orderly. A lot of buyers were tirelessly enjoying filling their trolleys with goods, getting into long queues to pay – like going to an amusement park. To what extent has consumerism brainwashed us? That life values are measured by materials that one possesses.
Pink Man is my upset and alienated feeling towards the concept of consumerism which has been accepted simply and without consideration by Thai society. I feel that this system has enslaved us without our realization. Moreover, we are being forced to act in the same way : there is a move towards uniformity. Pink Man is wandering quietly and smilelessly, like a robot, in the opulent and busy business area of Silom street, where there is a lunch market named La-lai-sap (melting money) for office men and women.Pink, like in the photo, is considered generally by high class group of Thai people as tastelessness and vulgarity which is used commonly by night-life girls and comedians. In additional to this reason, I intentionally use Pink color in order to subvert the aesthetics of local art.
Pink Man Begins No.8, 1997
Colour print, 50 x 60 cm.
The Pink Man on Tour celebrates the Amazing Thailand campaign – – the Thai government’s tourism promotional drive to attract fast dollars by selling off our culture and natural resource
Pink man on tour No.1 (Amazing pagoda, Bangkok)
Colour print, 40 x 50 cm.
Pink man in Venice No.1, 2003
Colour print, 70 x 88 cm.
Q: What did they die for?
A: So we can go shopping.
Horror in Pink No.1, 2001
Colour print, 120 x 165.3 cm.
If King Kong stood for untamed savagery and Godzilla for nature’s revenge on nuclear age man, then Pink Man the monster is surely their exact opposite. There he stands, in his shiny pink suit, the sum total of contemporary man the monster, as built and bred by extreme capitalism.
Hungry ghost No.1, 2003
Colour print, 95 x 120 cm.
Pink man in paradise No.7, (Taman Tirta Gangga) 2003
Colour print, 80 x 100 cm.
La vie en pink No.2
Beijing Pink (2006)
A Pink Trolley (Shopping cart), replaces the Pink Man as the important symbol attacking the apparent present day globalization, and consumerism. The Pink Trolley, as the ghost spirit of consumerism, is found conspicuously around Beijing while the city is enjoying a period of high speed development. The shopping cart is silently witnessing changing scenes between the old “things”, and the new “things”, revealing a cunning expression of conflicts of dialogue between things being highlighted, or ignored, and between those who had the discourse of power, and those who lose it. (…) Contradictions pop out from the silent scenes disclosing the vanity of worshipping wealth and power as crucial characteristics in the growth of the city. An allegorical creation is extended with Beijing Pink. Manit turns the social observation and critique into poetic symbolization, and opens questions about reality.
Beijing Pink No.12, (Village) 2006
C-print, 110 x 137 cm.
The Icon of Consumerism, (Pink Man Mascot)
Resin and metal