A discovery in Bangkok

The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, opened only four years ago by the municipal authorities, is a spacious modern nine-storey Guggenheim-style building. Its aims are to exhibit contemporary art, provide a meeting place for artists and hold community cultural events.

When so many of Asia’s great galleries still appear to have little connection with their surrounding communities, it’s a bold and laudable initiative.

The BACC is currently showing Thai Trends: From Localism to Internationalism, an exhibition of turning points in art during King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 66-year reign (his 85th birthday is this December). It follows the transition from traditional, formal visual culture to the development of modernism and abstraction. It’s a huge leap. If some of the exhibits sit uneasily together, it’s a reflection of the country’s social and cultural reality, and fascinating in that context.

There are plenty of other activities open to the public – sculpture, textile and fashion design studios, meeting places and artists’ shops. The centre is also a distribution point for the Bangkok Art Map, a handy guide if you’re thinking of exploring the city’s increasingly vibrant contemporary art scene (www.bangkokartmap.com).

This weekend the Save the Mekong coalition was setting up an exhibition in the foyer as part of their campaign against the Xayaburi dam being built in Laos, the first of 11 dams planned for the Lower Mekong between now and 2025.

Australia has an involvement in the project, having funded the prior notification and consultation process (PNPCA) which has taken place in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. But the Save the Mekong coalition (www.savethemekong.org) is not happy with the results of the consultation, and Cambodian authorities are reportedly concerned about food security along the Mekong. A report issued last month by a team of 70 local and international environmentalists after a four-year study showed that biodiversity in the river system, currently at fairly healthy levels, would be seriously endangered if the full project goes ahead.

It’s a major dilemma: how do you secure water supplies for the huge growing cities of south-east Asia without further damaging the environment? At the BACC, at least, a lively discussion is under way.  


I adored the food in Greece but it’s great to be back with the familiar flavours of south-east Asia. In Bangkok, as ever, you can eat superbly well for very little.

Best of all is when a local shows you around. On our last night Alex’s old friend Barry (Tiger Man) Petersen took us to his favourite Vietnamese restaurant, the kind of unpretentious place that’s off the tourist circuit but a cut above any up-market eatery. We shared local oysters, freshly shucked, with limes and delicious sauces, tom yum soups, whole grilled fish and stir-fried vegetables. It was one of those meals that cements friendships, and a great way to wind up our trip.


Good luck to I Efimerida ton syntakton (The Journalists’ Paper) which starts daily publication in Greece this week. It’s a brave venture by former staff of Elefttherotypia, which was the second largest circulation newspaper in the country until it went bankrupt at the end of last year. Founded after the overthrow of the colonels’ dictatorship in 1974, it was liberal in its politics and had wide national and international coverage – Greece’s answer to The Guardian, if you like.

Now 60 of its former journalists, including our friend Aliki Matsi, have clubbed together to take up the banner. Despite months without pay they have each contributed enough to begin publication with an office in central Athens and nationwide distribution. The Journalists’ Paper promises to give full coverage to the crisis in Greece and internationally, without fear or favour to any political party. We wish them well.


Congratulations to the Indigenous Social Justice Association which on Saturday presented a passport for Julian Assange to his father John Shipton at a ceremony in Redfern. Our Aboriginal brothers and sisters shame the Australian government, and the anti-Assange commentariat, too.

In the current issue of the British Journalism Review – the same one that carries Anthony Delano’s review of Alex’s book Come the Revolution – American journalist Christian Christensen gives a measured response to those members of the profession who have focused on Assange’s personality and allowed the issues at the heart of the Wikileaks controversy to be blurred.

Entitled “Covering Assange: We have taken our eyes off the prize”, his article examines common mistakes in the media including “an ill-found belief in US fair play and justice” and the view that Assange’s fears of rendition to the US are a conspiracy theory.

“Let me put it this way,” he writes. “If you had told me 12 years ago that Sweden would allow CIA agents to detain, assault and interrogate two Egyptian nationals on Swedish soil, then drug and fly them from Stockholm to Egypt on a private jet for torture, only to have Sweden deny it, I might have called that borderline conspiracy talk. But it happened.”

Christensen concludes that instead of discussing the personality, journalists should concentrate on “the substance of Assange’s fears regarding extradition to the United States, [and] WikiLeaks’ contribution to a greater understanding of the murky worlds of military action and diplomatic geopolitics”.

You can find the article at www.bjr.org.uk



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