The October 6 memorial running temporarily at Thammasat University to commemorate the crackdown on student protesters in 1976 is running until Sunday. But its importance will likely be with us for sometime both for the emotions it evokes and its reminder on the importance of remembering.
Luem mai dai, jum mai long (impossible to forget, unable to remember), coined from Thongchai Winichakul’s retelling of the events of that day, seemed to be the catchphrase for the speakers, attendees, and organizers at the opening of the ceremony.
It felt, for lack of better words, quite surreal and melancholic to be there.
The 12-hour event was grouped around the campus’s historical main hall across from Sanam Luang where 44 years earlier Thai police and right-wing paramilitary forces opened fire and stormed into the campus, brutally torturing, beating, shooting, lynching, and killing student protesters.
Over four decades later, no proper investigation has been conducted into the atrocity. Information is still scarce. Some victims and perpetrators of the brutal killings remain nameless, conversations about the events are even controversial and contrived, and truth and justice have yet to be found.
But the memories of October 6 still haunt us and are as poignant as ever, kept alive by those who refuses to let Thailand forget it.
For the exhibition designers, it was exactly what they wanted.
“We are a team of exhibition designers, content designers, researchers, technology designers, architects, and we all came together and asked — if we have this kind of knowledge, what can we do with it?” said Priyakorn Pusawiro, a professor and technologist at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi and one of the museum founders. “And what kind of exhibition can we display?”
“We would like to contribute to the dialogue in finding justice [behind these killings],” she added.
Out of the 46 recorded deaths, five were reportedly lynched.
At first glance, the name kwaen (hanged) sounds obvious and pretty straightforward. But it intends to carry itself several other meanings which beckon the audiences to question — Is it of the lynching? Of leaving things left unsaid? Or hanging over the scale of justice? Of hanging in limbo between two sides, the side where it propels us forward, and the side that pushes us back?
“The truth that we have brought to display is to represent the research, investigation, and process we have done behind the entire thing,” explained professor Priyakorn.
The exhibition, founded by a team of academics, researchers, designers, and artists, incorporates mixed media uses, including augmented reality and AR, to inform visitors to relive sights, sounds, and events leading to the eventual massacre.
A special guided tour is offered every two hours or twice a day. Visitors get to walk through and interact with the objects, images, and content displayed. Ipads and seats are installed in several spots to create a deeply personal and intimate experience — one where you can visualize and reflect as if you were right there on that day, witnessing the brutality and watching it happen all over again.
From the original rusty metal “Red Gate,” — where two electricians were lynched for protesting the return of a dictator, to a seemingly ordinary panoramic view of Sanam Luang — where several protesters were brutally tortured and lynched, with their dead bodies beaten with a chair, through our phones, visitors can use QR codes from each site to learn more about the details of the events, victims, and perpetrators, some of which who are still nameless today.
“This is experiential-based learning,” explained professor Priyakorn. “Aimed to connect people with the past that is yet to be found or fully discovered.”
The truth, in suspension
“We target this exhibition to everyone,” Priyakorn explained. “Because facts cannot be found from one side only — facts must be found from every side.”
It is an immersive and rather haunting experience, a factual retelling that not only informs but provokes.
Anti-community propaganda posters and far-right newspaper articles of those years were displayed to represent truth that is skewed and opinions that are meant to manipulate and divide. Photos displayed were brutal, chilling — not artistic, but tells a story that makes you remember and wonder.
There’s a civil war in the collective consciousness of Thais, one where you don’t see those who have opposing views as fellow citizens, but as enemies who deserve to die, even by the hands of the state.
“We see the present, the everyday life here. But these events happened. And if we don’t have any memories or recollections of past events, how would that be?” professor Priyakorn asked.
The truth is left hanging. Most importantly, the truth is still hidden.
These stories are old news that has been repeated and demanded time and time again, Priyakorn noted. But the founders the multi-layered exhibition exists to create a new, immersive experience to help shed light on an issue that deserves justice and accountability that is long overdue.
“At the same time, what we are doing is to investigate, and what we want is for people to talk about it and start investigating more.” explained professor Priyakorn.
“Therefore, the exhibition is not aimed to repeat the massacre, not aimed to repeat the cruelty,” added the professor. “But we would like to repeat the lesson learned that Thai culture must be open-minded, not only on the people’s side but also on the government side.”
Mere citizens cannot do this alone, she added, all of this needs support from the government — this is a crime done by the state, not the victims.
“When there is a missing person or dead person, what usually happens is we turn to the state for help with the investigation, because they have all the information,” explained Priyakorn. “In this case, they have autopsy files, files of those that were killed, these processes can be done with the use of new technology and forensic science.”
Not only do we need more data, but we also need more resources, financing, and assistance from all sides and relevant organizations, too — from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, Ministry of Interior, to educational institutions.
“At least, all the professors and experts — me as one — can establish spaces and research behind these investigations,” said the professor. “I am a computer engineer. We can create databases, image mapping, technology mapping, and so forth. We know that with technology, face recognition, and algorithms, we can do it.”
“So the question here is — is the state ready to help us?”
The justice we deserve, the dialogue we need
“We would like to create a dialogue that is not done by the state or anyone that would blame or put people in prison.” said professor Priyakorn.
Kwaen makes you wonder — why should we fear? Why is speaking out a crime? Why do our voices not matter? Why is it still so relevant today?
But more than that, it serves as a remembrance to October 6 and the significance of loss and injustice, etched firmly in the collective memory.
What are the limitations of those recollections? Why hasn’t the state come to help? It is clear that we, as a society, need justice and closure — but why are we still left hanging?
In the end, the experience left me with more questions than answers.
And that’s precisely the whole point of it all.
“We want the new generation [and visitors] to learn from the truth, and from the facts — not from anyone’s opinions,” Priyakorn explained. “We want them [younger generations] to have sound judgment, analytical and critical thinking based on their learning.”
The exhibition has attracted visitors from all walks of life — from third graders, university-level students, to older citizens and academics. What they want, explained Priyakorn, is to learn more about October 6, especially the students — who mostly said they were only taught five lines about it in the school curriculum.
“Education is very much needed. We should not just merely inform from our emotions and opinions — we should tell the facts, and let them judge for themselves for their future and the new generation to follow.”
It is utterly inhumane and impossible to fathom that this is still our country’s reality, but it is a reality nonetheless. Perhaps this is precisely why it is always talked about with so much sadness and disdain — it is a reality Thailand refuses to confront, but ultimately cannot escape from.
“But do we want to remember or to forget?” Priyakorn asked.
But as Thongchai Winichakul famously point out — it is quite impossible to do the latter.
Don’t miss the October 6 onsite exhibition at Thammasat University’s tha Prachan campus, which runs through October 1-11.
To support the continuation of this exhibition, please visit: https://twitter.com/October6Museum/status/1313169473709338624