Manit Sriwanichpoom. “King Kong Siam and Night Butterflies” in Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.49, Vol.19, 4 – 10 October. 2545 / 2002. (p.66-67)
What if I were a foreign tourist taken on a shopping tour by a guide and I got off the bus at the Silom Gallery, a place where antiques and works of art are on sale.
l. 6 – 7 Going along admiring the works at the 19th Contemporary Art Exhibition for Young Artists, I might come to some conclusions about Thailand which the local young men and women artists (16 – 25 years of age) are showing in the 117 works in the exhibition, i.e. that the country has only ‘King Kong Siam’ and ‘Night Butterflies.’
l. 13 Why ‘King Kong Siam?
l. 14 The silkscreen prints which look like a brightly colored cartoons are by Tanapol Sertsanit. There are two, entitled Siam, Land of Smiles #1 and #2. In the first there are white tourists, young, like husband and wife, and in the second, a white female in a skimpy outfit welcomed by the smile of a young male ‘King Kong Siam.’ The work of Tanapol in this set invites one to laugh hard and bitterly and then not to laugh at all. (King Kong Siam in the second picture wears a T-shirt with a Thai flag on it. The fellow is a bit meaty; the shirt is tight, a bit too small. The belly pushes out like an old dandy trying to court a young white girl – pathetic indeed.
l. 28 It is interesting how artists view the Amazing Thailand effort to promote tourism by the state Tourism Authority and the private sector. It’s all about Monkey Trick Lords or King Kong Tricks: Slashing the Whites. The attempt to sell the exotic, to sell what we call the ‘Thai-ness’ or ‘being Thai’ of Thai people to foreign tourists is not much different from selling pictures of ‘primitives’ in Hollywood movies.
l. 37 – 38 Thai charm = the primitive (backward and undeveloped) = King Kong Siam
l. 39 – 40 If Tanapol presents a picture of King Kong smiling, King Kong as the playboy dandy, Jittrakarn Kaewtinkoi presents an image of King Kong the Zombie in the work entitled The Opening. It is a large acrylic painting (150 x 190 cm) – a picture of a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open one event or another. It is like a photo of such social events which we commonly see in newspapers.
l. 47 -48. The artist is good at creating an atmosphere of gloomy color, chilling, of people in the picture, as the presiding figure opens the event. The honored guests are like zombies rather than like living people. Their faces lack emotion. They seem to have no eyes (i.e. no soul), with faces green, red or purple. The presiding individual grins broadly as he carefully cuts the ribbon separating the audience looking at the painting and all the honored zombies, opening the way for them to troop in and mob the audience (and eat them up!)
l. 57 And then there is ‘King Kong craving sex’ in the work Victim of Emotion by Arthit Amornchorn, an acrylic painting (70 x 130 cm). It is a picture of a girl sitting on a bus going home in the evening. The upper part of the painting depicts a group of fierce, cold-blooded males staring at her in a state of extreme sexual excitement - like hungry tigers staring at their prey. The artist warns people in society to be alert to sexual hazards which are present all around us.
l. 68. Why ‘Butterflies of the Night’?
l.69 I got this idea from Portrait of Night Butterflies by Nittipan Hoisaengthong. It is a large, rust-colored painting (170 x 200 cm) depicting girls in high school student uniforms with their backs turned to the audience. Behind them is a large butterfly with a pattern of round stars and circles. There is a nose and a mouth on the butterfly. When you move back from the painting far enough, you see the whole picture. It looks like a person’s face – as if a demon is appearing behind these young girls.
l. 80 -81 The artist is telling about the problem of prostitution among young students. He compare their being girls to being like butterflies with life and beauty. They fly upon the earth for a very short time before they die. It is a sad story and very depressing that they have to sacrifice their valuable maidenhood for money, convenience and luxury.
l. 88. Tanwa Wongsamutorn is another artist who presents ‘night butterflies,’ beautiful and full of sadness, in the work entitled Hesitate #2, an oil painting (150 x 190 cm)
l. 93 -94 In this picture, 5 young girls like prisoners in a jail with nothing to do but dress up beautifully and walk back and forth, up and down, round and round among the rooms and levels of a brothel, an empty row house. There are only beds, pictures, and a big portrait of a young girl.
l. 99 – 100 On the bed, one girl wears a long red skirt, the color of lust and sexual desire. We can’t see her torso or face because her friend is blocking our view. The latter wears black and a pale-colored short skirt. (p.67) She lifts her knee, showing a bit of thigh, her face without emotion, her eyes expressionless. Others walk up and down the stairs, lifeless and heartless, like zombies.
l. (1)05-6 And there are many other works which are critical of ‘Butterflies of the Night’ which reflect the decline of society, for example, Sideline No.2, by Amnart Kongwari; Pair of Opposites, by Worapote Rodsuk; and Beauty Queen, Deceptive Woman, by Sittikorn Thepsuwan, a picture which critiques beauty contests in society generally. (This picture won the prize given to encourage a young Thai artist.)
l. 13 – 14. Actually, the Contemporary Art Exhibition for Young Artists has been going on for a long time. This is the 19th year. Organizing such an event is really worthwhile. At least, it gives us a chance to see the ideas and skills of the new generation of artists who have grown up and will be the older generation of artists in the future. A number of famous artists have passed this stage before, for example, Chatchai Puipia, Jakapan Vilasinikul, Sakwudt Wisetmani, and Nawin Lawalchayakul.
l. 23 -24 But don’t give too much importance to prizes because they usually go to those works upon which the whole committee can agree. So a prize doesn’t reflect much more than the political acceptance and close-knit attitudes and ideas of the judging committee.
l. 30 – 32 I think we should look around at works which did not win prizes so we can understand and see the whole picture - the big picture, wider and clearer. That means we can see Thai society, the whole of it, the attitudes, ideas and skills of the artists of this generation.
l. 35 There is another exhibition in a shopping mall, but it is underground. The name of the show is quite long: Passing on the Culture of Sukhothai in the Millenial Year 2001. This is a show of historical pictures of Sukhothai by 50 senior artists with support from many sponsors. The catalog is in 4 colors – very good, and free. If I told you the names of the artists, they are all well known.
l. 50 – 51 Tourists like me are happy that we can see the works and ideas of young artists first. Otherwise one might misunderstand that Thailand has only Buddha images and the ruins of temples all over the country in time capsules, unchanged!
l.57 – 58 And pray that they don’t allow these young artists grow up to be King Kong Siam and Night Butterflies like their elders, their seniors, always spinning round and round. Amen.