Described as Thailand’s Banksy, the masked Headache Stencil has been making political street art for the past few years now. According to an interview he gave to Art Whore, Headache says “…I really do “art”on the day military made coup in Thailand. Really angry of soldier on that day. Then go out to make graffiti.”
Since then, Headache has been creating waves in Thailand and garnering a huge following, both locally and internationally, even making it into the finals of a stencil art competition in Sydney, Australia.
One artwork that really put him on the map is a graffiti of a black panther with the mute icon next to it. The piece refers to the story of a rich businessman who was caught with the carcass of many wild animals including the endangered black panther. Following what seemed to be a half-hearted attempt by authorities to take appropriate measures against the crime, the man eventually walked free, claiming he didn’t kill those animals. Headache’s artwork is basically pointing out that this is yet another story of a rich man getting away with a crime that will be silenced.
What really garnered attention here was the fact that the police whitewashed (painted over) Headache’s black panther graffiti. He posted the whitewash on his Facebook page and that story then went viral.
“After the officer erase that, people feel like ‘what the f— happened?’ because some understand that when I did mural clock, is guilty because I did on the public wall and it’s about government, so they understand if the officer come to erase. But the black panther is not about the officer or the government, or anyone in the government. It’s just about the leash guy that being sponsor to many public, many government. He is quite big guy.”
The whitewash of the black panther graffiti drove many other street artists around Thailand to start putting up their own iterations of the black panther as a sort of defiance to the authorities. A movement was started.
But that particular piece isn’t overtly political in nature. Headache has created other works of art that are more on the nose, of course. One includes a likeness of General Prawit Wongsuwan’s face on an alarm clock, which points to the fact that he has been seen sporting 25 different high-end watches costing tens of millions of Thai Baht which he failed to declare among his assets and says he borrowed from a friend who passed away.
This is the piece that put Headache on the run from the authorities earlier this year. The police came knocking on his door late one night after the graffiti went up but he managed to give them the slip. Headache then posted on his Facebook page that he was being hunted. The public rallied around Headache and eventually the authorities back off, but since then, Headache has been careful about not revealing his identity or sharing any information about his background or his family.
Just recently, Headache held a solo exhibition of his artwork in Bangkok featuring many of his political art pieces.
“Before I had my solo exhibition, I walk into many galleries to ask that can I show, can I have exhibition here but all is afraid. Because they know if they let me show, they got nothing except problem because it’s political art. It’s new thing, quite new thing to many Thai people,” Headache said.
When asked if he was worried about repercussions from authorities, Headaches says that since the elections are close, he’s doesn’t think the authorities will bother him because that would be bad press for them considering that Headache has significant support from the public.
“I think for now they try not to bother me much because I think it’s in the time they try to get a good feedback or get a good image. Now they trying to prepare for election and they want to come back. So now they try to be good. That’s why I choose to make the exhibition on this moment. Because I’m quite sure that they will not come to bother me, because if they come to fighting with art again, it will make the bad feedback.”
On the subject of elections, one of his pieces was that of a ballot box with the word ‘freedom’ emblazoned on it and a stencil figure of the devil on the wall just behind it. “The government try to make the election to be the bad thing, like the election is not the answer for the people and they try to make the election worse”.
Headache says that his art isn’t about how many followers and fans he has – of which is he has many now – but it is about making people think. He says that he uses art as a medium to speak to the government but also to act as a reminder to the people about the good and bad things that are happening his country. If they see his art, start to think about it, and then discuss it, he’d consider that a success.
When asked about the possibility of going commercial with his art, Headache says he doesn’t want to lose his soul.
In terms of the current climate for political street art in Thailand, Headaches says that it’s better now because more and more artists feel that they are able to speak up now. There’s been a rise in the amount of political art cropping up all around Thailand following Headache’s increased media coverage. However, he doesn’t just credit this change just to himself though, citing that all artists already have things they want to say but have been afraid to say it out loud due to fear. Now that Headache has shown that it’s possible to speak your mind in Thailand, artists are ready to take that chance.
“If you speak the truth, what do you have to be afraid of?” – Headache Stencil