BANGKOK On one wall hangs a giant Thai flag torn in half but stitched up with a zipper. Nearby is a poster-sized news photograph of smoke mushrooming out of a Bangkok shopping mall, the gray cloud outlined by a skull.

Out of Thailand's bloody political turmoil that ended in mid-May, an art exhibit has emerged called “Imagine Peace.”

Eighty artists have contributed works that include a rendition of the anti-government protesters' rubber tire barricade - which sealed off parts of central Bangkok for weeks - to express “the desire for peace and reconciliation,” said curator Apinan Poshyananda.

The curator sounded calls for contributions to the international art world and received pieces from critically acclaimed friends Marina Abramovic and the late Louise Bourgeois, who sent two sculptures of clasped hands shortly before her death May 31.Reconciliation is the latest catchword in Thai politics today, as the government tries to heal a nation fractured by the worst political violence in nearly two decades. The 10 weeks of protests left 89 people dead, about 1,400 injured and brought the capital's luxury shopping district to a standstill.

The upheaval also inspired an outpouring of creativity.

“I painted every day during the protest to document my feelings,” said artist Kamin Lertchaiprasert, who described the crisis as the period “when Bangkok ceased to move”.

The protests ended on May 19 when the army moved in at dawn to clear the streets, triggering a full day of clashes and dozens of arson attacks before peace was restored - a tenuous calm that most believe will not last.

The Red Shirt protesters were demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Many were poor, rural supporters of the deposed fugitive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, but their calls for more equality in Thailand struck a chord with a wide swath of society who say politicians can no longer ignore the need to address disparities and deep discontent.

“Peace will only happen when we kill greed and anger,” said Kamin. To make his point he took an iconic image from May 19 - the burning of Bangkok's massive CentralWorld shopping mall - and painted a skull around the smoke.

The exhibit at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, which runs through Aug 22, is located just a block from the protest zone in central Bangkok, an area that protesters turned into a makeshift campsite enclosed by a barricade of stacked rubber tires and bamboo spears.

One artist rebuilt a portion of the tire barricade but instead of rudimentary spears used prickly cactus plants, which are meant to represent “living organisms” that bring the barricade to life and make it more approachable, said Rirkrit Tiravanija, one of Thailand's best known contemporary artists who guest curated a section devoted to young artists.

Performance artist Marina Abramovic, who recently wrapped up a retrospective in New York at the Museum of Modern Art, donated a photograph of herself crying with the caption “The spirit in any condition does not burn.”

The Culture Ministry, which funded the exhibit, hopes it will contribute to a larger discussion about how Thailand can move past its political troubles, which most believe are on hold but not resolved.

“We need to heal the wounds of the nation, rebuild it and rescue our country's image abroad,” Culture Minister Nipit Intarasombut said at the exhibit's recent opening, which attracted a Who's Who of the Thai art scene. “This can be done through art.”

The exhibit was cobbled together in three weeks.—AP

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