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Seeking redemption in art

BANGKOK: More Thai convicts are turning to religious artwork while behind bars to “cleanse” their minds but some find staring a Buddhist statue in the eye day after day a daunting task given the guilt associated with past crimes.

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By Bangkok Post

Saturday 3 February 2018, 02:30PM


An inmate at Bang Kwang Central Prison prepares to give a Buddhist statue to his parents after he was trained to sculpt as a way of reforming his behaviour. Photo: Apichit Jinakul

An inmate at Bang Kwang Central Prison prepares to give a Buddhist statue to his parents after he was trained to sculpt as a way of reforming his behaviour. Photo: Apichit Jinakul

“It took immense willpower to face the piece of sculpture I was working on,” said one inmate, aged 27, who declined to give his name.

Six years ago he killed a man in cold blood but now he is attempting self-reform through a combination of art, religion and self-reflection.

The convict now is among 30 people to join a Buddhist-themed sculpture course at the notorious Bang Kwang Central Prison in Bangkok which was launched by the Corrections Department. It aims to help the inmates heal and reform, said the facilities department chief Narat Sawettanan.

As the young man directed his mind to his work he was able to gradually distance himself from the person he had been before. The realisation dawned on him that the life he had lived previously was “vague, nonsensical”.

He said that he has found some salvation in sculpting as the act of shaping inanimate clay into revered religious symbols made him realise he is the master of his own destiny.

“People who think they only need to serve themselves and satisfy their own needs are gravely mistaken,” he said.

Life assumes greater value when altruistic acts are incorporated in one’s mental and emotional landscape, he added.

Seven months into the training program and he is already more optimistic about what the future holds.

Phra Sakkaya Wongwisut, the assistant abbot of Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, said the Buddhist statues the inmates produce will be given to their families.

Amon Chanthabut, the father of the 27-year-old prisoner, said the statue his son made has now become part of the family’s devotional shrine.

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“It also represents happiness and my son’s return to the correct path,” he said.

Mr Amon, who shares his son’s new passion for Buddhist art, applies his furniture-making skills to craft human-sized statues of Buddhist iconography from wood in his free time.

He said this level of engagement with Buddhist art is one of the best curatives he could imagine to rectify his son’s past behaviour.

Other convicts is the class shared similar feelings.

“It’s not an easy job to make a Buddhist statue for people to pay their respects to,” said one inmate, who also requested anonymity.

He said such a project can only be completed if the artist – the convict – is truly able to purify their soul.

He said he plans to keep sculpting having now fallen in love with the art.

“This project has changed all of them,” said Phusit Rattanaphanop, a sculptor who helps run the course.

The trainees have made 10 sculptures for hospitals and temples. Their work will be publicly displayed next month.

Read original story here.

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