A courageous artist and filmmaker soldiering on her heroic quests with truth and beauty.
Smanrat Kanjanavanit, or more commonly known in the art world as Ing K, is a formidably fearless, lion-hearted artist. She and Manit Sriwanichpoom have been partners professionally and romantically as artists, filmmakers, and gallery and cinema owners at Kathmandu Gallery, Cinema Oasis and Galerie Oasis. Their visions and oeuvres possess grace and gravitas that challenge dark powers lurking behind the scenes.
Ing K recalls, “In 1979 after two months at West Surrey College of Art & Design, Surrey, I was so emotionally touched by John Pilger’s TV documentary “Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia” that made me move back to help the refugees. I went to Khao E-Darng refugee camp in Taphraya to help UNHCR by teaching English as well as cleaning wounds. Then I worked at Raintree advertising agency and became a journalist as an investigative environmental writer for Lalana magazine, the Bangkok Post, and the Nation.”
She continues, “In 1991, I wrote the script for “Thailand for Sale,” a documentary on threats from tourism on sea gypsy villages. Tour buses and real estate started to encroach their land, which tourists viewed as exotic savages à la Gauguin’s paintings. Then with Artist Alliance for Democracy, I protested against a Hollywood production bulldozing the beach at Maya Bay for a movie. I had to fight the media war and spin doctors who campaigned to discredit the facts. In 1993 my film with producer Brian Bennett, “Green Menace: The Untold Story of Golf,” deals with how golf courses create environmental impact by stealing water, intruding national parks and using insecticide. The following year, I went back to my roots with Brian and made “Casino Cambodia” which exposes a complex story woven among the upcoming election, Khmer Rouge, deminers, forestry, and UNCTAD all for economic development.”
Ing K’s first feature 16mm film is “My Teacher Eats Biscuits,” set in a New-Age ashram called ‘Boundless Love’ where a dog is worshipped as god. She said, “It’s considered as the second Thai indie film, but banned like the first one, Thongpan. It’s deemed blasphemous to all religions. Nine years later I made “Citizen Juling” about a kindergarten and primary school art teacher who came from Chiang Rai, Thailand’s northernmost province, to teach in Narathiwas, Thailand’s southernmost province with much unrest. Juling was an idealistic young woman, a romantic soul, who wanted to do good deeds and volunteer to go into the war zone. She loved hornbills in Hala-Bala National Park and was attacked by male terrorists disguised in niqabs. Her sincerity affected me. They murdered teachers and monks who were everyone’s friends—middle persons bridging cultures. It’s a way to make war and make everyone angry.”
On “Shakespeare Must Die,” Ing K’s most talked-about cinematic work, she said, “When I was in Derbyshire, I fell in love with the villain character Macbeth. The story is a prototype of horror movies. Editing “Citizen Juling” was so sad and painful. Thai Studies academics and professors said that I’m an evil elite royalist propagandist and a national security threat. So I translated Macbeth in four months and we managed to get funding from the Ministry of Culture. It’s literally actual Macbeth with some added scenes or Mekhdeth in Thai, made for Thais. I used visual language to represent the universal megalomania despot. Manit, our producer, came back from the Board of Censorship and said that there were no decisions and it didn’t look good. SoI started filming him and the process. Then it became “Censor Must Die,” this extraordinary journal in which we sentence the censors.” Unfortunately, the film is still banned and considered seditious.
Ing K explains, “With this film and its historic ruling, we made “Bangkok Joyride 1, 2, and 3.” There would have been many movies on the Arab Spring and the Umbrella Revolution. Thais enduringly and patiently sit there protesting with their quiet heroism. Nobody minds if you shoot from your phone. I’m the only filmmaker who made this. Why didn’t any other filmmakers do it? I was called Leni Riefenstahl but I’ve never made any propaganda. I’ve made and edited “Bangkok Joyride 4” because somebody had to bear witness to history. We suffer a lot from forbidden history. No one had the phones to record. Facts don’t count anymore and people write on social media. The heroes are people around us.”
“Apocalyso,” Ing K’s recent exhibition showcases her 20 paintings in 20 years. They are prophetic and ominous like the Book of Revelation with paintings installed like crucifixion in a church. She clarifies, “Women are the most crucified of all. I made these paintings as a form of release—energy to do something good. Art and cinema are the best cure for people to stop looking at their phones. It’s essential to human. You surrender control to the film directors. It’s an experience to open your mind like walking in nature. I keep going like a monk in a daily walking meditation. If no one supports us, then be it. The future is too far to tell. I’m very much here and now. I’m fatalistic, very Thai in that way.” Ing concludes, “When it’s the age where facts become toothless, you can save the world by making art and films and having a cinema where people have a communal dream session on screen with others. Art saves the world as truth and beauty like John Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”- that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”