Updated: Jun 7, 2021
This is a translated transcript of the fourth episode of our The F Word podcast, where we interview different female artists about their works and inspirations, and discuss social issues. Listen to the Thai-language interview with Juli Baker and Summer here.
Juli Baker and Summer is the well-known online moniker of Khun Paan, an artist famous for her brightly coloured, joyful, and naïve art. Apart from painting and illustrations, you can also find her writing for a day magazine's column, Nowhere Girl. Juli Baker and Summer is our featured artist for our Sisterhood issue, so you can spot splashes of her illustrations on our social media and website. Discover more of her work on Instagram @julibakerandsummer.
JB&S: We must first understand that anyone who works is a worker. As long as you are not at the top of the pyramid, you are part of the 99%. And when you realise that you are the 99% and oppressed by a smaller group then you ask, how do we make things fair? I don't think we want to have a life where we are rich by hustling super hard. We want a life where we do a certain amount of work and get to be happy with things we care about; where we don't have to have this big dream and have it have to be successful. I don't think everyone has to have passion, but because of inequality, we don't have the life that we should have. Workers should come together to maximise themselves and protest the oppression from these big corporations.
Blue: Hello, everyone. Today we are with Khun Paan, Juli Baker and Summer, in our fourth episode of The F Word podcast, where we uncover social issues with Thai female artists. I am super excited because the name Juli Baker and Summer is probably something everyone is familiar with, but for the listeners who might not know you, maybe you can introduce yourself?
JB&S: Sure! Sawasdee ka. Thank you, Blue, for inviting me. I am a freelance illustrator, but people probably know me more from my moniker, Juli Baker and Summer. I have been working as a freelance artist for five or six years now - I feel old! I am mainly an illustrator and also a columnist for a day magazine for the column called Nowhere Girl.
Blue: I am such an admirer of your style. I feel that there is a sense of rebellion in your work. I think it’s most clear in your columns because it's presented in this handwritten way, like it's someone’s diary. If there’s a mistake, it's crossed out so casually. Most of the time in a magazine there is a seriousness to the prose, but even when you are discussing a political topic, you turn these things into personal things; you turn larger political discussions into the personal and the everyday. This style of naïve art, where does it come from? Are you rebelling against something or are you just expressing?
JB&S: I think this is the first time someone has used the word rebellious to describe my art because most people tend to think that my work is cute or joyful. I feel happy that someone is looking at my other works. I appreciate what you said because when you write you don't know how people respond to your work. When I do art it's personal, I just want to express my feelings or whatever catches my mind at the time. Since childhood, when I draw I don't think what my style should be. Should it be rebellious, should it be feminine or cool? It comes out naturally and my work changes as my life changes.
When you mention naïve art, it's one of my key inspirations. It's a type of art style where you don't have to have technical skills and so naïve art has a diversity of artists, from children to autistic people to elderly people, if they are lonely and want to express themselves - they don't have to study art. So it's genuine. You don't have to think too much about composition or if the colour use is good. I like it. I saw it in children’s works when I was teaching kids for a while and picked it up without knowing.
But if you ask me if the rebellion has always been there I would say I've have different phases. I think when I was a fashion design student at Chulalongkorn University, my works were very different from my work now. An easy comparison is how I depict women then and now,. If you look at it, you might think two different people drew it. The colour choices are similar because I have always loved colours, but my perspective on women’s beauty has changed over time.
When I was a fashion student, it was very fashion-esque. I was taught to see beauty as skinny and tall, and the strangest thing was that I was always drawing white women - barely any Thai people. And at the time I never questioned it, but now I am understanding that there are beauty standards - trendsetters behind the clothes we wear. So my perspective of beauty is different. Now, I draw people with bodies who look like my friends, who look like me, my grandmother, without fitting beauty standards; something that feels like me without needing to worry if it’s beautiful.
Blue: I am seeing that inclusivity is something that you seem to reach for in your work.
JB&S: Yes. At the time I thought that was what beauty meant but as I grew older I came to understand now who defines it. Is it the corporations? Is it a rich man? Who decides that women have to have a slim waist and breasts, or smooth legs? Or outfits today: if for example a neon green blouse is trending, is it beautiful? Or is it because we see people who are "fashionable" wearing it?
There’s the phrase "must-have" used in marketing and it’s questioning if we have to have these things? If I don't have these things - then am I not pretty? Is my work not as good? Is my value any less?
Blue: Where did this questioning come from? Was there a specific moment when this realisation came to you?
JB&S: There's no specific turning point, but I slowly realised the capitalistic mechanisms. I saw it clearest when I was a fashion student in year one or year two. I got to learn that a collection, which we think of as defined by our tastes, comes from somewhere. Someone defined it; a group of people defined it. Brands come together to agree that we are producing these things in this collection in order to convince consumers that this is what is trending. We might be one of the people falling prey to that, or we might like it, but how do we know if we are prey to trends or not?
So, I started to see that clothes we think of as beautiful have many factors going into them. The more I studied, the more I realised that each piece of clothing passes a production process. For example, a piece of coloured cloth uses a lot of water to get to that bright hue we like, and who does that impact? Or the cheap clothes that we buy are affordable because of the oppression of workers. Environmental issues are a concern for me, but workers rights issues really matter to me too because you see the lives that it costs, which is not fair.
At the time, I started questioning if I wanted to study fashion. I didn't want to graduate and then produce clothes for people to buy and get stuck in this same loop. I wasn't questioning the larger capitalist system yet, but just thinking about how I wanted to do something else. Then, as I grew older, I started to understand the inequality in our country better and see the bigger picture.
Blue: So it sounds like you saw the darkness in the production process - the commodifying process that also commodifies workers. So, I am really curious: when you stepped back to become a freelance artist, still in this capitalist system, still having to do commercial work, how did you deal with this dissonance?
JB&S: At first I thought I escaped it! [Laughs.] But no matter what, art is still influenced by capitalism, just like you said. Even if I promote anti-capitalist views, I still have to do commercial works, which take up maybe even over 50% of my working time. At the end of the day, I am in a society that has to use money. Particularly in a society where the government does not support welfare or artists, so I need to support myself through commercial means.
But, if you ask me, I don't think I can preach to anyone because there are plenty of people with really clear values and execute them much better than I do, like political artists today such as Sina Wittayawiroj or the students from Chiang Mai University. I do what I can with the responsibilities, family responsibilities and monetary responsibilities, that I have. But I do try to sift through the works that I am given and consider if the client might not have values I want to collaborate with. Or, if political movements are going on, I try to participate as much as I can.
Blue: You know, it seems like there’s a propagandist nature to art - you can't run away from it. Even if it's propaganda that we believe in, hegemonic structures colour everything. The other day someone told me that history is so unkind because history is selective memory and what gets remembered is according to power structures, and art is a reflection of the power and what gets remembered or amplified because it's funded. In your act of rebellion - as you said, you do as much as you can - whether it's for you or with clients, what sort of protest do you find in your works?
JB&S: Nowadays, for me, personal works are just anything that I want to express; so, the things that I want to say are found in my works on social media or personal exhibitions. But, the clients who hire me are people who care more now about messages around social issues because their targets are younger people and younger people are not buying into authoritarian ideas anymore. People care about equality and freedom.
For example, recently I was hired to do a mural with Koendanai through a shoe brand and they didn't want me to market their shoes, but rather talk about gender fluidity and gender equality. That's new for me. I don't get many of these commercial jobs, but it's nice to see more brands caring about young people and caring about what the young people care about.
In my work, whether it's personal work or professional, I need to be able to express myself. For example, when Anon Nampa [a Thai human rights activist] got arrested, I was so angry. I thought it wasn't fair and asked myself, what can I do? I have the tools of being able to draw and I have a lot of followers on social media. At the time, my main objective was to draw something that was as seemingly neutral as possible, so people would be able to share because I think some people felt similarly, but were too scared to voice their opinions. I think art gave a way for people to voice their opinions through what I drew. It didn't have to be high art, like pieces by other political artists who take so much time in producing these works.
Blue: Have you ever toyed with the idea of becoming a political artist?
JB&S: I never thought of being a completely political artist because I think I am still happy drawing flowers, trees, people I love, or important moments in my life. These things made me start making art but now... whatever I can do, I do. In the current society that we are living in, when we see someone about to die, or inequality, or someone being harassed for saying the truth - we have to question whether we are standing still or trying to help wherever we can.
If someday, when our country has a good welfare system and strong democracy - when we see each other as equal - then artists won't need to feel the pressure to demand something all the time. We would have more freedom with our work, more freedom of expression. But, even if society is healthy it doesn't mean that art is not needed. As we see in history, art drives movements and it's important, but we can't draw what stresses us out every day. Not everyone wants to talk about the struggle every day.
Blue: Actually, in our last podcast episode, I was talking with Bussaraporn Thongchai about similar topics; how if there wasn't so much inequality and grief... it’s just hard to make happy art given the current climate.
JB&S: Yeah! Art would have the opportunity to talk more about First World issues like sustainability, but we are still stuck with our rights being taken away.
Blue: What I see in Thailand is that hegemonic powers colour everything, so the stuff we talk about is very homogenous. We talk about greed the same way, in the tone of Buddhism because there is power colouring our perspectives. Diversity is hard to find. Instead of... sometimes I feel so much pain when I look at our culture.
When will we get to see more diversity of thoughts getting supported? And I guess when authoritative powers decay and once we uproot these beliefs that seem sacred because the world told us they're sacred, we probably get to see more art. I do want to see the philosophy that we come up with not coloured by power.
JB&S: It makes me sad. It's very obvious when we go to galleries or some art competitions that there are corporate agendas behind it. Very rarely, when they are supported by the government, the focus is on very specific topics. If you put out anti-authoritarian views, you won’t get supported. Or, if we want to talk about inequality then we must draw happy farmers, not ones oppressed by corporations. When the art world is shaped by capitalism it's hard to go anywhere. I don't blame the artists who draw happy farmers because it sells. But when we can't go past economical inequality it's hard for art to grow.
Blue: Now I remember that your father is an activist?
JB&S: Yes! I am really lucky. It’s like a privilege, not really, but it makes me different from other Thai families that might not give as much importance to voice and rights as my dad because he does a lot of activism around workers rights. When I was younger I never knew what to tell my friends because other dads are business owners or merchants, but my dad - how do I say advocate for workers rights?
My father is, in a way, also the product of the oppressive authoritarianism of the past. My dad wasn't always political. He wanted to be a musician. He liked music and art, but after the 14th October [the October 14 1973 Uprising overthrew the regime of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn], he lost a friend and it changed his perspective on society, and made him want to change things. And so he started to be political. He always says that it feels like we are building a building, but it's getting demolished again and again, and it’s sad it's like we are stuck in an endless loop. I am very lucky that my father cares about this.
When I was younger, I was very anti-politics. I don't know if everyone is like this, but if your parents are into something, you tend to be averse to it. But as I got older I realised that: OK, you can't ignore this. Nowadays, I go to protests with my father a lot and I'm happy that we get to do these things together.
Blue: Tell me about your experience going to protests with your father.
JB&S: [Laughs.] Sure! I have always gone to protests with my father since I was a young child - not just the recent movement. Whenever 1st May [Labour Day] comes around, that's the day we go to protests. There is always a picture of me in the mob parade wearing a protest shirt. It's funny that my father is so pro-democracy that every gift, every card, there will always be a picture of Democracy Monument! My drawings have so many sketches of the monument and he makes fun of me.
So yes, we always go together whenever there are protests; like for the 14th October remembrance gathering, I would go with him. He cares a lot about political history and likes to document most protests, even if it's a protest he might disagree with, or only partly agrees with, he wants to document them and buys the shirts to keep evidence of them. Whenever you go into his room you will see historical evidence of Thailand’s protests. I am not always with him now that I am older, so I am not sure who ask who first, but we decided to go to the recent protests together.
I remember when we got back home, my father was opening the door, he turned around to tell me that he is very happy that we got to fight for the same cause together. There was a time when I was apolitical and he was probably disappointed, but because he cares a lot about freedom and personal rights, he doesn't like forcing other people. I guess he was always waiting for me to come around and so when we got to do this together he was very happy.
Blue: It sounds like your father is a very interesting person! With the keeping tabs of historical evidence, there is also a personal connection that he has to this evidence of oppression because there is death in his memory that’s personal and you see how oppression from the government affects your personal life in a very real way. And the more we talk it's obvious that personal history is power to the people.
Like you said, it's constructing this building that's constantly getting demolished. We are called Thai and it means free, but we never got to be free. It's in our DNA, yet we are not there still. It's like we are in this scary loop that's constantly refreshed even though there's a repeated fight and forced forgetting. So the stubbornness of personal history... memory is a type of rebellion - remembering things that the government might not want you to. So I feel that even if art is a small drawing it could be rebellious because it's about remembering something; expressing something on your terms.
I am curious about how your father feels about your work? Have you ever talked about your work with your father and how he feels about it?
JB&S: My father is happy that I use my platform to talk about issues. Like the column Nowhere Girl for a day magazine. It used to be a travel column: I would travel abroad, take pictures and write. But last year because of Covid we couldn't travel, so I decided to "travel" to Ratchadamnoen Avenue and have my father be the tour guide, exploring the historical sites from Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall down to Thammasat. That was a small shift where I realised that that column can go beyond just travelling.
When my father saw that work published he was so happy and he shared the post. Because my father used to host Ratchadamnoen tours. I was so young at the time, too young to understand what he was doing and I didn't go on the tour, but now he got the opportunity to take me there. He took the map he made for his tour to guide me and it was a point where I began to understand the things that my father did in the past.
Blue: The more I talk to you it's making me realise that rebelling doesn't have to be super loud. It does not have to be a big gesture; it can be something as simple as organising a historical tour or writing a column. How do you feel we can rebel in the personal dimension?
JB&S: There is this phrase my father told me: “Just saying the truth is already a part of the revolution.” I am not sure where the quote is this from, but I think this is how it starts. Just speak up. My father is not someone who has an angry, strong message - if you meet my father you will find that he is different from most activists. He is soft spoken, open-minded, has a lot of empathy, is open to different perspectives and possesses a lot of patience - so I saw from a young age that you can be political through multiple tones.
And you can see in my work that I am always painting bright colours and flowers, but that doesn't mean I can't talk about serious things. It starts from this idea about what you can do. I have a freelance artist friend with the same political views, but she has different conditions in her life; like her parents see things differently or have a quieter personality, so she would use other ways to support. When I go to protests she will keep watch on alerts when tear gases are coming in and she will tell me. I think that's it. You are already a part of it by just looking at what you do and what you can do.
Of course, some people think they don't want to lose anything, but it's important to step back and think about what you might lose compared to those who get harassed, killed and abducted. I can't say that I do so much because I am still scared of going to jail. My family probably won't be OK with that, but whatever I can do, I do.
Blue: I think talking to you makes it really obvious that to participate socially can take so many shapes and it doesn't have to be one way. Sometimes you have to do so in the way that you can, in the way that is still you.
JB&S: I don't think there's a specific right way to do it; like having to be patient and generous is the right way or to be angry only the right way. For me, I am more on the angry side because it's a collective emotion that most people can understand. I don't think it’s wrong to be angry. It’s so easy to be angry when you are oppressed and it drives change because without anger then we are content within a perpetually unfair society. But now I am trying to be more patient and careful about tone when I am relaying my views, so as not to repel people, but rather draw people in.
I can do it sometimes as a columnist. I am also a piece of media that anyone can stumble upon and I don't want to repel anyone right away. At the same time I still also really like Kam Phaka [an anchor on Voice TV] and listening to her feels cathartic. These people are still a part of the movement.
I think it’s OK to be angry with the opposing side, but at the same time, it's important to also be open-minded because democracy is having people who agree and disagree with you. Sometimes you believe in one thing today and your beliefs shift tomorrow. I wrote in my last column that it's important to keep your anger and cultivate hope together hand in hand - it's important in a long-shot fight like it is in Thailand. But I think it's a cultural victory that we are already seeing because this year is already so different from last year
Blue: Very true! Anger is an important thing and sometimes we stigmatise anger too soon. Especially in feminism, for some people who aren't familiar with these issues, they stereotype us as angry feminists. When I was beginning to study feminism, I initially thought: "Oh, why are some people so aggressive, this will just hurt the movement?" But, the more you learn, the more you realise it’s difficult to not be angry. It's impossible to not be angry. The more you learn, you realise that it's not the responsibility of the oppressed to manage their anger.
I love your way of protest because when you are talking about a personal issue - like what you wrote about how capitalism influences beauty standards - when it's personal, it cannot be denied. Because it happened.
JB&S: When you mentioned angry feminists, I was just talking to another friend and we were talking about how there's no happy feminist. What is there to be happy about when there is oppression? I want people who stigmatise us as angry to look into it; then you would see the millions of reasons why some people are angry. It makes me think of the female director who made "Faces Places" [Agnès Varda]. She said, "I tried to be a joyful feminist, but I was very angry."
There was this question that you asked me - if I had ever faced sexism in my career - and last night I was up all night thinking about it. There were incidents where I drew a naked woman and someone asked me to draw her clothed, but something recently happened and I want to share. I recently got hired to do a group show and at the end, we took a photo and there were male and female artists. We were taking a photo with the male CEO and then after a bit, they sent all the female artists out, so there were only the male artists with the male CEO.
It was the first time when I saw it so clearly - like, what was the criteria? They asked the female artists to move out so that the amount of people fit the frame for the photo that's going to be in the newspaper. There were so many different ways they could have cut people out, but they chose to cut female artists out. At the time I was so angry, but I think I was the only angry person. It became so clear that there is a separation between gender everywhere. Even if the photographer did not mean it intentionally, it's still in his subconscious that there is a gender divide.
Blue: And it’s frustrating because it’s such a norm. If we are the only person who sees this dynamic and want to speak up, we are seen as divas.
JB&S: Or get told we are overthinking.
Blue: And yeah it’s a bias - our sense of self is not good enough because we don't have a penis. Hold on, let me go find my penis.
JB&S: Yeah there was no specific reason at that time: it was just because they were males. It's this deep-rooted norm. When we talk about there being more male artists than female, we aren't imagining it. It's not because male artists are better, but because gender equality is not even a condition that curators think of when considering works. The Guerrilla Girls have been talking about this for so long, but it's still the same.
[For an example of this, read our article How Many Female Artists Were Featured at the Bangkok Art Biennale 2020?]
Blue: I have a gallerist friend who said that she was preparing for events for the year and there were only male artists featured. This is so common. Or, if you are a female artist you get tokenised; you get coined as a female artist, not just an artist.
JB&S: I get that so much! Whenever I do murals - and street art is a male-dominated scene - whenever I get media coverage, they coin me as a little girl. Back when I was younger too. If it were a male artist they wouldn't have done that, as you said.
Blue: I am not sure if this would be interesting to you, but I discovered this paper recently unpacking the aesthetic of cute. And how on the surface cute might seem harmless, but cute as an aesthetic is dangerous because consider what you define as cute; it has to be something soft, something small. It creates this power dynamic. This cuteness, this smallness, is sold to women constantly as ideal femininity. I feel that I have this in my body - I'm quietly programmed somehow to make myself small. It makes people want to be nice to me, but it also keeps people from taking me seriously. I think it bleeds into the way we are programmed socially. Like, if a man and a woman are working together, men might be less likely to take women seriously in the workplace. So when you are coined as a little girl it’s making your work small.
JB&S: Yeah I agree. When I was younger I used to feel so much pain with the word cute and would try to steer my work away from it. But I am someone with a small voice or someone who creates bright, pastel-coloured pieces, so when I get hired I tend to always create works that are of that tone and it does make me uncomfortable. Because I don't want to be seen as cute only, but I want to be taken seriously too. But it's embedded so deeply. I am happy you brought it up because for me it's definitely something that upset me a lot when I was younger I don't want people to think of me as cute only.
Blue: And it's a sort of reclaiming right? Going back to talking about how there's an edge of protest in your work. How - yes, your work is pastel-coloured - but you are still expressing what you want to say, drawing unconventional bodies.
Or even when people who draw flowers and use pastel colours, it does not mean their art is any of less value than those who are outright political. It's not our place to push people down.
It goes back to this idea that we value femininity and masculinity differently. Feminine traits get coded as a weakness, but it shouldn't be that way; femininity deserves the same amount of respect. I am not sure if this is interesting to you, but I remember reading about how there is sadism that comes with cuteness and capitalism. Do you know that Hello Kitty doesn’t have a mouth?
JB&S: I have heard about this!
Blue: Yeah and she does not have a mouth so that the buyer can project any feelings onto the Hello Kitty, which is a little bit "Black Mirror." This symbol of cuteness does not get a mouth because otherwise, she would have agency. She was designed to answer the needs of other people.
JB&S: It's scary. It's something we are so used to that when I was younger I wanted to be cute. As a girl we want to be seen as gentle, as tradition defines us. Especially if you are a female artist working with older artists, or if you are a male artist working with older artists, it gets very authoritarian too. Like you have to respect elders, especially in art schools here. Art schools are supposed to be places where personal expression should be respected, yet it's very authoritarian very "SOTUS." It's strange.
Blue: It is conflicting because art is supposed to be diverse. It is supposed to be a higher point of democracy; you should be able to express extreme views. Yet the place where artists get produced is quite authoritarian.
JB&S: The things that I experienced with myself might not be that extreme, but in my experience it's even when you are getting tutored into colleges that you feel pressured to please your seniors; to get recognised or that you have good tastes, especially as a fashion student. I have other friends from other universities too and you see how it can even worse, like there is sexual harassment. There is this tradition of giving nicknames to underclassmen and for me, I think it's silly. Even if some people think it's cute, not everyone likes that. We should have the simple right of choosing what to be called.
Especially in the fashion world, a lot is dependent on your connections, so you are told to go to parties to network. And it always bothered me: do I have to have all these connections to be successful? I was always a shy person and scared easily. I didn't want to have any drama with anyone and I am always scared of someone getting angry at me, but looking back, just because someone is older they don't have any right to oppress other people or look down on my tastes.
Once I grew older, I wanted to go back in time and tell myself to not be so scared. I am still lucky that I didn't have to deal with anything, but I have friends who were affected emotionally and it changed some of their lives. I have a friend who puked while studying because someone was berating her and she was so stressed. At the time, I thought this was the norm; that if you are weak, then you lose. But, the more I think about it, it's scary that I was prey to that system too and didn't recognise it as a problem. It's really sad and I had to comfort a lot of my friends who felt a lot of pain with this.
Blue: I think as a Thai you are programmed to get used to oppression. It gets produced from the school unit, from it being coerced on so many levels. It's upsetting and painful because people have personal boundaries, but a lot of Thai people, especially those who went through the Thai education system, you are used to being dehumanised until you are used to not being respected as an equal, even though that's a basic human right to say that this body is ours. From teachers cutting your hair, coming to control how you dress. And once you get older, you reproduce this same dynamic, either as a senior oppressing underclassman, or even being the underclassmen; you are so used to being disrespected, you take it as normalcy. When no, you shouldn't be so stressed out that you puke.
JB&S: It's sad and I saw things like that every week, and I didn't do anything. I wondered if these people know that it destroys lives and dreams. It might not be a big issue for some people, but for some sensitive people it makes them abandon their dreams. I have a friend who decided not to do her entrance exam because she got too stressed out. It's this mix of authoritarianism in the Thai education system that pressures you to try hard, to race to get into good schools.
Blue: People think that it's not the same but it's becoming more and more obvious and why our protest is largely youths. It's because the education system is the first realm of authoritarianism we are introduced to.
We have been talking about politics a lot, so I want to ask a bit more about your work. I know that you just illustrated a Soi book?
JB&S: Yes, it’s called "Beyond the Gender Binary" and written by a queer activist talking about how gender roles oppress not just LGBTQ+ people, but everyone. It's a good book. It's short. It helps readers relate to these issues, no matter who they are. The cover is the portrait of the writer, which was really fun.
Soi is a very interesting publisher. They produce a lot of well-translated books, like this recent one I picked up called "Feminism for the 99%," which talks about feminism and capitalism, and how it's intertwined. How we can't talk about feminism without talking about classism. For example, labourers not being compensated properly and not being given as much when they're female. I am working on another book cover with Soi as well.
Blue: When you mentioned intersectionality, it's really clear sometimes. I feel like I get tired too of people thinking gender inequality does not exist. If you are in a society where femininity and masculinity are valued differently... like you said, that gender roles oppress everyone. Like, if you are in a society that says this is how masculinity should be or - this is a theory of a trans researcher; she coined the term hegemonic masculinity, which outlines the structure like a pyramid and the top power colours everything. And in a world where masculinity is king, it's why when males make fun of each other they call each other gay because femininity is seen as weakness and contamination. And it shows how housework is work, and it takes time and energy, but it gets overlooked and undervalued because it's coined as feminine.
JB&S: Yeah and that's why you can't talk about gender equality without talking about workers rights, not just gender equality. If you want to push for democracy, you have to talk about workers rights because democracy is valuing everyone.
Blue: How do you think listeners can participate in their everyday lives in understanding workers rights?
JB&S: I don't want to say I am a master on this because I think it should be my father who answers this. I think the first step is understanding that you are a worker. We must understand first that anyone who does work is a labourer; as long as you are not at the top of the pyramid, you are part of the 99%. And when you realise that you are the 99% oppressed by a smaller group, then you ask how do we make things fair? We don't want to have a life where we want to be rich by working super hard. I can do a certain amount of work and get to be happy with everything. I don't have to have this big dream and have it be successful. I don't think everyone has to have passion, but because of inequality we don't have the life that we should have, so workers should come together to maximise themselves and protest the oppression from these big corporations. That's where union starts and its a solution of how people come together and take care of each other.
When people are taking care of each other, you get a stronger community. Like, for example, I am an online freelance artist. Online workers have little protection or leverage with clients, but unions can help you. We can come together and share expertise in law or a collection of contacts for juniors. It's a function that happens when there is a stronger democracy, like in Germany or Scandinavian countries, where there are advocates for people. There is a recognition of the importance of people coming together. For example, when an Uber driver falls, he is not the only person who falls - people are helping him. I think if people care more about this, it can bring down larger authoritarian powers.
Blue: Yeah I think it bleeds into a lot of our structure. Like my mother is an academic who looks into saving options for Thai people. In other places with good welfare, you can depend on the government, but here you have to save for retirement early and depend on your offspring. And, like you say, when people are commodified, you are in a system where these corporations have too much power, so it's important to balance this power to make it more equal, which has to come from the voice of the citizen,. To be stubborn about rights, we don't have to be commodities in nine-to-five jobs.
I get annoyed whenever I see this rhetoric on self-improvement because I think it's obvious that it's very capitalistic brainwashing turning people into a commodity; that your value is your work, when there are so many other dimensions of life. Growing up with this made me extremely ambitious until I burnt out, which a lot of people can relate to. I went to study abroad and I was burnt out. I think growing up in Thailand you are taught that happiness is very capitalistic, with purchasing and consuming, but when I went abroad and saw how my peers find happiness with cooking, going to the park, doing nothing, reading... it shapes how you define your personal life. I think rebelling personally against capitalism is giving the system a middle finger and saying that our worth is not there.
JB&S: Yeah the thing we want is freedom in consuming to buy things we want, not because we are told to want it. It's hard because you are told to want. When I see friends abroad I am jealous because they don't have to work much and they are OK. They don't have to worry too much about saving for retirement.
Blue: We are at our one-hour mark, but talking to you is so fun.
JB&S: Sure! You should come over to my house sometime. Talking to you is fun. I think you are very talented. I am very impressed. I am happy that there are more media platforms in Thailand like this. I think it's very good and important. I will help spread the word!
Blue: Thank you so much for coming to talk to me today. I feel like we touched on so many issues, maybe more politics than art, but sometimes that's the same thing.
JB&S: Thank you! Thank you to you as well.
By Blue Rachapradit
Blue is an aspiring illustrator, sometimes poet, living in Bangkok. She is the founder of The F Word art magazine and passionate about the intersection between arts and social activism. You can see more of her illustration as well as her poetry on Instagram at @thisbluecreature.