(NEW YORK)–PEN America and the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) mourn the passing of Thanom Chapakdee, an artist, academic, and art critic from Thailand. Chapakdee died on June 27 at the age of 64 after suffering a stroke.

Chapakdee was an outspoken advocate on the power of art and art criticism in shaping democracy, and sought to activate “people power” through his writing, activism, and art exhibitions. He was the co-founder of the performance art group “U-Kabat” (“Bonfire”) which sought to emphasize the importance of art activism in Thailand and abroad. He also co-founded MANIFESTO art center in Khon Kaen, which was intended to be an exhibition space for art that engages with social and political themes. Chapakdee held a PhD in Fine Art and was a former special instructor at Srinakharinwirot University’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

He was a close friend and partner to PEN America and ARC, joining multiple sign-on letters and serving as a trusted sounding board for our efforts to defend artistic freedom and free expression in the region. Chapakdee was deeply committed to discussions of artistic freedom, but he was also incredibly warm, humorous and generous with his wisdom – especially with younger artists and practitioners who found themselves in vulnerable positions. 

Chapakdee’s indomitable spirit and monumental contributions to the art world in Thailand and around the globe were clear to all who knew him and had the honor to work with him.

Issan Record, which frequently published contributions from Chapakdee, said in a statement: ​​”There are times when you meet someone who is a phenomenon unto themselves and the world. The person is irreverent, bursting with revolutionary spirit, cynical, embracing, dismissive, visionary—all at once. “Isaan has lost a comrade, a friend, a fighter, and a dreamer. He has finally found his home.”

Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection, said in a statement: “We will miss him dearly and our hearts are with his family and friends during this difficult time.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057