Thai artists are socio-politically engaged in a wide range of issues, from the conditions facing women to the bloody past of the country. We looked at five of the most relevant names in today’s Thai art scene.
In past instalments of Cobo’s series on Thai contemporary art, we have looked at artists who work with spirituality and environmental themes. Today, we examine the socio-political engagement of artists, which is the other side of the coin. Indeed, the spiritual and the natural are not represented as independent entities that are disconnected from politics in Thai art. Instead of compartmentalizing these different issues, the work of Thai artists highlights the way that they are inextricably linked and engages with them.
So, what are the core concerns of this engaged art of Thailand? The first is an anxiety about an uncertain future, whether that is expressed through subtle satire or straightforward denunciation. We can also find reflections of the bloody past of Thailand, which has been marked by a series of political crises (after two successful coups in 2006 and 2014, the country has ended up with an authoritarian regime since 2014). Foreign politics is also a subject that is greatly discussed, especially in terms of globalisation and the impact of consumerist society on Thai people.
In the last few years, artists have increasingly placed emphasis on gender issues. The work of female artists, in particular, shows that the personal is political. In a country where freedom is still very much constrained by the patriarchal society, this is truer than ever. In this scenario, outspoken female artists are still marginalized, especially when they dare to speak about the body in an unconventional way.
Because of the breadth of the topic, we have decided to narrow our selection of political and engaged artists down to five by choosing those who have used emblematic approaches to the socio-political realm.
Kawita Vatanajyankur: Women’s Labor and Social Injustice
The Thai-Australian artist Kawita Vatanajyanku is moved by an acute sense of social justice. Based in Bangkok, she mainly works with photography, video and performance, creating alluring pieces. Her oeuvre offers a powerful examination of the psychological, social and cultural ways that Thai society operates. Her focus is everyday life, domestic work and daily chores; the time-consuming and physically exhausting tasks often done by women.
Whereas the aforementioned Bussaraporn Thongchai expresses the female identity in disquieting hues, Vatanajyanku’s uses highly saturated colors. For her aesthetics, Kawita draws from a globalized and digitally networked visual language of consumption and instant gratification.
However, under the artwork’s seemingly blithe look, there is both dark humor and violent undercurrents that are both centrepieces of her work. Her staged performances are at the edge of being both playful and painful, and resemble physical experiments that test the body’s limits.
An example of this is Kawita’s 2015 video, ‘The Scale 2,’ where the artist hangs suspended from ropes with her eyes closed and arms outstretched, supporting two wide, flat baskets. A neon green background blazes out at the viewer and dried rice begins to fall into the baskets. As the trickle becomes a torrent; grains ricochet off her face and her arms sway under the load. The downpour intensifies for two increasingly uncomfortable minutes before fading out. Throughout, her expression remains unchanged.
Bio: Vatanajyankur graduated from RMIT University (BA, Fine Art) in 2011. In 2015, she was a finalist in the Jaguar Asia Pacific Tech Art Prize and curated the prestigious ‘Thailand Eye’ exhibition at Saatchi Gallery, London. In 2017, her work was curated in the ‘Islands in the Stream’ exhibition in Venice, Italy, that was held alongside the 57th Venice Biennale, as well as the Asia Triennale of Performing Arts at the Melbourne Arts Centre, and ‘Negotiating the Future’, a curated exhibition of the Asian Art Biennial Taiwan. In 2018, she is showing her work as part of the Bangkok Art Biennale 2018. Vatanajyankur has exhibited widely across Australia, as well as Asia, USA and Europe. Her work is held in Museum collections, including Singapore Art Museum and Dunedin Public Art Gallery (Dunedin Art Museum), as well as University collections and private collections in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Europe and America. She is currently represented by Nova Contemporary, Bangkok / Alamak! Project / Clear Edition & Gallery, Tokyo.
Writer: Naima Morelli
Original article: CoBo Social