Thursday, March 26, 2009

Suthi Kunawichayanond on Thai artworld 1987 - 97

Suti Kunawichaiyanont. “Art Before and After14 October: From Underground to Above Ground,” in Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.50, Vol.27, Nov 28 – 4 Dec. 2546 / 2003.

Thai Art in the Current of Change.
Thailand in the decade of 2530 (1987) developed greatly materially. The economy expanded in a ‘bubble.’ An economic crisis followed, beginning in 2540 (1997). There was a movement calling for democracy that led to the Black May Crisis in 2535 (1992) and a movement leading to the ‘people’s constitution’ of 2540 (1997).

Thailand was once like a village, a little community. It was opened up. The world’s currents came flooding violently in. It was a completely new experience. For the contemporary Thai artworld in this era, the outstanding characteristic was that Thai art entered the world and Thai artists turned to the international scene. They followed the current of an identity crisis – or one might say, the current to find out what it really means to be Thai in the midst of the globalizing process.

Jumphol Apisuk,
a Thai artist who traversed the continent to show his work almost halfway round the world, did social and art activism. Jumphol is a development worker like those NGO’s. He joins social action with art and life, bringing them together as one. At the end of the decade of the 2530’s (1987-1990), he began doing performance art in earnest, in 2539 (1996) and 2541 (1998), Asiatopia, an international project in Bangkok.

In the decade of 2530 (1986 – 96) mixed media artists and installation artists, like Montien Boonma, were interested in searching out the possibilities of common local materials used by country people, and natural materials, cheap materials used by country folk – all of which had been overlooked by the mainstream. One example of art with social concerns was Bangkok Angel 2534-37 (1991 – 94) in which Montien brought discarded construction material to create an image of a woman who came to Bangkok looking for work.

Early in the decade of the 2540’s (1997-2007), the Nuts society, a group of people in the field of design, did activities in art using techniques of advertising, investment marketing and consumerism in a way that negates itself. He campaigned for more sensitivity and awareness on the part of Thai people (using Thai language) which seems to be ever scarcer nowadays.

From the beginning of the decade of the 2540’s (1997- 07), similarly, Kraisorn Prasert made installations and did performances with social content about the lives and deaths of good persons. For example, his project to honor Good Citizens in 2543 (2000). He began with a campaign to encourage people like Christopher Jack Benchakul who was badly injured when he went to help someone else. Kraisorn made installations in public places, for example, at various shopping malls (6 of them) all over Bangkok. People generally were able to take part by writing postcards to encourage Christopher. Kraisorn collected 6,000 cards.

Other important artists in the decade of the 2530’s (1987 – 97) included:
Wasan Sittiket, whose role as social critic, admonishing and protesting ever more intensely. Since the end of the decade of the 2520’s (1977-87), Wasan’s life as an artist and social activist have become ever more inseparable. An outstanding work, for example, Niryoktah, from 2534 (1991), inspired by the Triphumi. Wasan assigns some harsh punishments for sinners from various professions in contemporary society. His painting depicts the punishment, along with information about the sin and the way the punishment is administered.

The Ukabat Group became active around 2536 (1993). The membership consists primarily of Paisarn Plienbangchang, Sompong Tawi and Jittima Ponsawake. The activities of Ukabat include art exhibitions in many media. Sometimes they take part in larger art exhibitions in Thailand and abroad. Sometimes they install protest exhibitions in communities or in public areas, for example, in the Siam Square area, or protesting in front of the Alliance Francaise when the French were doing their atomic bomb testing.

Since 2539 (1996), Manit Sriwanichpoom began using photos as his medium for expressing ideas. The work which made his name [as a photographer] was The Bloodless War at the end of 2540 (1997) after the onslaught of the economic crisis. He took black and white photos, using models from some famous war news photos. The images seem vaguely familiar under a cursory glance, but closer consideration shows that they are new images. The people in the pictures are contemporary Thai people who are wounded, tortured and killed in this economic war.
Chatchai Puipia is one of the painters who came on strong in the decade of 2530 – 2540 (1987 – 97) for his skills in making beautiful oil paintings with ironic social commentary. He made self-portraits in states ranging from not quite normal to insane. His face sometimes fills the whole canvas, tearing it with a tremendous grin as in the picture Siamese Smile/ The Photographer’s Joy 2538 (1995). Some pictures show the artist wrapped in only a loincloth laying on a wicker pallet (in the picture Last Action Hero 2536 (1993).

The painting of Paritat Hutangkul from the end of the decade of the 2530 ‘s is full of violence and anarchy, both in content and form, in the rough use of oil color. The brushstrokes are brutal in pictures full of weirdness. For example, his work Returning the Yellow Robes. It is a picture of the Buddha in a peaceful attitude as he meets a representative of the new world filled with lusts and desires. This sinner brings the monk’s yellow robe to return in order to be unhindered in following the consumerist lifestyle, free of the need to give any thought whatsoever to ethics and morals.

Fighting for Space
Fighting for space in history and the memory of society, especially in areas where the state doesn’t need for the people to know or remember: hence, man memorials and monuments have to fight and compete for a long time before they can be realized. For example, the 6 October 2519 (1976) memorial which was just opened on 6 October 2543 (2000) in the area in front of the big auditorium at Thammasat University. The 14 October 2516 (1973) Memorial was opened on 14 October 2544 (2001); it took 28 years to build it.

Role of Women
Even though the number of Thai women artists is not great, their role in the artworld helped greatly to make things lively and intense during the decade from 2530 to 2540. Some brought forward the issue of being a woman in contemporary Thai society in very interesting ways. They began to gain some interest in international shows too, For example, Araya Radchamroensuk and Pinnaree Sanpitak. Some women artists from the decade of the 2510’s (1977 – 87) still have an important role as university art teachers, for example, Kanya Charoensupakul, Laksmi Hongnakorn (Tangchaloke), Siriwan Jenhattakarnkij, Sermsuk Tiensoontorn, Surojana Setabutr, Kaisaeng Banyawachira, Jittima Polsawake; Nittya Eua-ariworakul, Wimolmalai Kantachuwana, M.L. Busyamart Nantawan, Oranong Klinsiri, Duanghatai Pongprasert, Wacharaporn Sirisuk, Yuwanna Boonwattanawit and Suwanee Sarnkana.l.

In the period at the end of the decade of the 2530’s (1987-97), we begin to see the first brisk movement of women artists. It begins with the show Tradisexion, from a gathering of Thai women artists in 2538 (1995) who came together and showed again in Womanifesto, which began in 2540 (1997). Hers Group showed for the first time in the same year.

On the Exhibition Stage

At the end of the decade of the 2530’s (1987 – 97) the new mainstream became art which looked at social problems and the modern world. The works of university art students which had been full of abstraction and traditionally inspired art with Buddhist themes waned, even at PSG/SU.

The National Art Exhibition, which had been criticized for being hostile to art for life, formerly handing out prizes to the dominant purely abstract or semi-abstract art, now welcomed more socially critical contemporary art which more resembled ‘art for life.’

Many works in this vein won many major prizes, for example, in the 44th National show in 2541 (1998) – a mixed media work by Daeg Buasaen, a gold medal winner. Or in the 12th Contemporary Art Competition for Young Artists in 2543 (2000), works of this kind by Tanwat Suriyathongtham, Tanakorn Sararak, Sittikorn Thepsuwan and Amnat Kongwaree all received prizes.

Or, in the private sector competitions such as Thai Farmers Bank’s [Kasikorn Bank] Contemporary Art show, the prizewinning work of Pittiwan Somthai, a work of graphic art, an etching, intense black, showing the dark side of life and humanity, a desolating nightmare. And in 2542 (1999) the work of Panupong Chuaroon, Piya Puangkuntien and Wora Chaiyanit or the artworks of many other artists who were chosen to join the show did not win prizes – they also presented images of social problems.

The artistic approaches that had not been accepted as they should at the institutional level were welcomed warmly, though there is no market for such works at all 30 years after 14 October. Art which reflects and presents social problems, or ‘art for life,’ which used to be a secondary current, an underground movement, has now become a popular style in the mainstream.

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