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Installation view of “The Painting that is Painted with Poetry is Profoundly Beautiful” at Smart Museum of Art, Chicago, 2018. Courtesy Smart Museum of Art. 

The Painting That Is Painted With Poetry Is Profoundly Beautiful

Tang Chang

Chills ran down my spine as I peered into the vitrine positioned toward the end of the late Tang Chang’s solo exhibition at the Smart Museum of Art, so beautifully and adeptly curated by Orianna Cacchione. On a faded sheet of paper was the word “gunman,” handwritten in English, and repeated in a pattern that resembles a monument. In the top right-hand corner, the word “democracy” appeared; at the bottom right was the date 1978. The Thai artist was referring to the suppression of the student protest against the return of Thanom Kittikachorn, an exiled military dictator, which had taken place two years earlier in Bangkok. That event, known as the October 1976 massacre, had led to the deaths of many at the hands of the Thai military. Yet, reading those words in the south of Chicago, I immediately thought of the recent and persistent shootings that have taken place in American schools. That a Thai artist—a self-described Buddhist, no less—would capture the mood of our violent times in such a poetic way was moving. 

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