A sculpture at his subversive new exhibition depicts the country’s military leader, Prayut Chan-o-cha, playing poker against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2014 coup.
The current leader is shown holding two aces — a winning hand — though his pockets are visibly stuffed with other cards.
“This election is the same as poker,” the artist said in a phone interview from Bangkok. “They’re gambling with the nation. And if you’re on the wrong side, you lose your money, you lose everything.”
Thailand’s military leader, Prayut Chan-o-cha, is depicted playing poker against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Credit: Christopher Wise/WTF Gallery
The pseudonymous artist — who chooses not to reveal his name or be photographed without a mask — has acquired a growing reputation for poking fun at the junta.
Nonetheless, Headache Stencil has continued to take satirical swipes at the country’s elite, as pro-democracy and pro-military forces vie for power.
Images of flies represent the artist’s view that the upcoming elections are “dirty.” Credit: Christopher Wise/WTF Gallery
The walls of his new show, “Thailand Casino,” have been blanketed with images of helicopters and firearms. Stencil paintings of huge black flies reiterate the artist’s disdain for the forthcoming elections.
“I think this election is dirty,” he explained. “And when something’s dirty and stinky, the flies are going to enjoy it.”
“The government says it’s mending (elections) or making them better,” the artist said. “But I don’t think there are many people who believe that. It’s (now) easier to cheat.”
A nuisance to power
Before finding space at WTF Gallery in Bangkok’s Watthana district, Headache Stencil reported difficulties securing a home for the controversial works. The reasons, he said, were both commercial and political.
“I don’t think any gallery believes that people will buy my artworks, because who wants a dictator’s face in their house?” he said. “They thought they might not get much profit.
“Maybe they would also have problems from the military, so they (declined offers to) show my work,” he added, admitting that he “understands” galleries’ concerns.
Artworks at Headache Stencil’s Bangkok exhibition “Thailand Casino.” Credit: Christopher Wise/WTF Gallery
But while the alias “headache” stems from a self-professed mission to irritate authority, the artist’s ire is not reserved for the junta. Should pro-democracy forces prevail Sunday, he said he’d continue to rally against the abuse of power.
“If we change from a dictatorship, maybe we still have to wait to see a new government working first. If they’re corrupt or (break their promises) then I’ll have to speak again.”
His iconoclasm also stretches beyond party politics.
Thai street artist Headache Stencil, who’s often dubbed the “Thai Banksy.” Credit: ROMEO GACAD/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
For now, however, Headache Stencil is focused on encouraging his compatriots to think about how they vote.
“The trend on social networks in Thailand now is that people don’t support the dictatorship any more,” he said. “Many people want it to go away. But we have to see what will happen after they open the (ballot) boxes and count the votes.”