Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dernchai Phuprasert on Wasan Sittiket

Dernchai Phuprasert on Wasan Sittiket from ART STATION in FINE ART Magazine, March 2004

When you mention the name of Wasan Sittiket, practically every artist in the artworld knows him as an artist, intellectual, writer and activist against social injustice.

You could say that from the time he was a student, up till the present, Wasan’s life has been outside the box, resisting the social currents drifting toward Western culture, drifting into a social system of consumerism and materialism until society today finds itself struggling with all its desires, all the needs that must be satisfied.

Wasan Sittiket is from Nakorn Sawan province. He began studying art at Chang Silpa College. His older brother, who liked to draw, was very influential in his life. He liked to go out and often taught Wasan to draw. And because he liked to read, Wasan had different ideas from most of the kids his age.

Wasan’s artworks, coming from his beliefs and from stories, aim at bringing news and truth, the reality of society, because he believes that artists, in addition to making artworks, must express the truth as well. Although the process involves artifice and images, Wasan tries not to shrink from expressing the essential. Living with people in society, the artist – with his deep feelings about life – sees beauty and knows it should be expressed so that the community will get the message, the truth. His works are stories of life, of people in the city and in the countryside.

The idea, the thought, that society should be beautiful is expressed in the criticism of evil, of what is worthless, disordered, deceitful and fraudulent. It takes place in society, where people can get a glimpse of what this planet, this society, is like. It’s brutal, frightening. And the artist warns emphatically: do we want to maintain such a society? Or will we join together to solve our problems?

Wasan is very determined to make the facts known in society, to let people know, because this is the duty of the artist, and of everyone who wants to help. We, all of us, are born into this world and should live in order to study and understand it, to know life and to know the basis of life as it goes on. And we should have a goal in life, not just life from day to day. Wasan has said:

“As we are all born into society, we should work together to make it a peaceful and happy place to live. We shouldn’t just lie in wait to oppress others, to extort and exploit and to gather what we can for ourselves.”

Look at his view of society. You see that he doesn’t agree with the way things are nowadays, how many people just sit in front of computers, playing games and playing on the Internet, receiving false and useless information. Society is teaching people to be enslaved by conveniences. People don’t realize what is happening. Wasan doesn’t want people in society to blindly accept things and accede to what may happen in future.

From the above, it is clear that Wasan’s artworks are not just something which help to soothe the mind. The artist is someone who can help explain the truth, to awaken our minds and arouse our energies. The artist urges us to get up and do something good for ourselves and for society. This helps stimulate change for the better.

Wasan studies life in the individuals with whom he comes in contact – happy, suffering or sad. He soaks up the feeling and thinks upon it. He meditates on their reasons, their backgrounds, on their problems and what is needed to solve them. Certainly, he disagrees with the world’s communication systems because only the wealthy can get gain power. It’s like a doctored picture, made to look good, though in reality, the image is a fake, a counterfeit.

From the past, we see that Wasan keeps working steadily. At first his pictures about life were inspired by the lives of Vang Gogh and Munch – lonely lives, introspective, with concern for psychology and philosophy. Because Wasan believes that we can learn in time to face events in the world. He studies and researches about art and civilization. In Thai art, for example, when we make traditional Thai designs, we should study the ancient root and origin of the design. We shouldn’t just take the prettiness of Thai art and commercialize it. The true wisdom of a work of art is not in its visible form only. We should emphasize the content and meaning – that is more important; it has impact on the perception of society as well. We look to the relations among the structures of society which make artists, intellectuals and writers create styles honoring one thing or another. The artist must be able to analyze these things, to take them apart, and to create new kinds of beauty for his society.

The face or head of a Buddha image is a philosophical symbol, a symbol of beauty, of the truth of life; of the transitory nature of existence, of suffering and no-self, together with all things that represent Buddhism in our homeland. Religion is one symbol of the East. It soothes the mind of the one who creates and the one who receives. And as for works of art, artists don’t cheat: they speak and do what they say, what they believe. Not that one believes everything or believes in order to gain profit. They believe because it is authentic life, life which does not fear death.

In addition to all this, Wasan works in many other modes – for example, performance, conceptual art, installations, video art and drama.
He thinks that there is still much that is lacking in Thai society. The works he presents must sell themselves: he tries hard and invests a great deal in making them. And because most artists in Thailand work as teachers or university lecturers, it is not easy to live as an independent. Making pictures to send to galleries to gain fame is pretty difficult because Thai artists are not widely accepted in their own country.

Even so, the independents have no thought of changing, of submerging themselves in today’s society, no matter how much technology advances. They live normal lives even though their ideas are nonconforming. The lack of acceptance seems to be something they meet constantly in their daily lives. [Such artists – like Wasan] regard the materialist, capitalist way of life as the pathway to hell. They look at the destruction of the planet as the source of our troubles. We can all see how the planet is warming each day. There are more earthquakes. Many people in France and Germany died in recent heat-waves. These things are not normal. They are worse than the war in Iraq because they reflect a war with the environment. We all face the consequences which will surely come back to us in the form of tremendous calamities. All of us – artists, people working for companies, people who sweep the city streets – should all come together and help each other, sharing in friendship. And we should work together for society and for our descendents who will be growing up in the future.

From the beginning, Wasan’s work uses people as a medium for story-telling. In 1984 his work became more intense. Using installation to critique society, he told stories of being people victimized. Most clearly, however, he recorded [contemporary] Thai history. You can see it in the pictures where he writes about what has happened in each era of our own time.

Western culture has flooded in to a frightening extent. Our old culture is being over-run. Even the process of education comes from the West. [Artists like Wasan] claim to act with an Eastern consciousness. They speak for the meaning of life in an Eastern sense, expressing itself in many ways. It is a natural way of life, knowing our debt to nature and not abusing nature as they do in the West. When a society has an over-lapping class structure where extortion, exploitation and cruelty have power over humans, Wasan’s work is a warning to people to see that we need to turn and give our best to society. We need to try to understand politics, to keep up and not fall under injustice. We must stand and do something for social justice.

Literature and poetry also interest Wasan because they teach many things which we might not learn from experience.

Wasan says that, in making art, the maker must go on a journey. He must make a journey to meet it, though the way is difficult and harsh:

“I believe that when art comes to find us, we have to do it, and we must do it till the day we die.”

Art is something charming and glamorous that attracts us. It makes one run after it. One always wants to be in its presence. At the same time, Wasan is interested in political problems. The two go together: it’s challenging, though it’s also very difficult for an artist to do many things at one time.

Wasan is presently busy with a new set of works. He is using the traditional Southern Thai puppet shadow play as his medium because, he says, this art form is the most free in presenting a story. The play can criticize anybody, can present anybody. And this kind of play is also funny, catching and holding the audience’s attention. Wasan wants people to think, to gain a new awareness. He wants there to be a choice, to be many points of view. He doesn’t want people always to be led along by others. He yearns for sympathy, empathy, charity, beauty, goodness and gentleness of mind in society. These things separate humans from animals. These things are important and make the world pleasant to live in.

“In Thai society there are still many things we lack. I want Thailand to have contemporary art galleries, libraries, storehouses of literature, of wisdom, for Thai people. I want art galleries to be places of learning which collect the works of senior artists and masters, the most highly skilled artists. They will be a way, a direction for the youth to grow up and study art. The youth will know how very important these things are, how worthy of honor, how truly exemplary. But in Thailand, we still don’t have these things. We should support our old culture – like I am supporting the traditional Southern puppet-shadow plays. I use the old art to express about contemporary issues. I create new puppet characters, new scenes. Everything is new, but the [traditional cultural] value endures.”

“I would like to see the people in society have hope. I don’t want people to fall victim to the viciousness of society. I don’t want anyone to have power over anyone else. I work in art and certainly it has influence on the people who come to see it! But really, it doesn’t. All power must be abandoned because we are in a democratic system where no one has power over anyone else. Everyone has rights and freedom equally, all of us. So we should all be ready to call each other to account. We should speak nicely to each other, using simple direct words, sincere, understandable and not complicated…

“Our country, Thailand, is so abundant and fertile. The land, the rivers, the skies, the sea around us – these treasures belong to all of us. We should use these resources, recognizing their value.
“And we should give something back to the land. We should be responsible human beings toward the land. Our actions should reflect our gratitude to the earth. Finally, what I am greatly worried about is that Thai society should be a people’s democracy which loves and honors humanity. Then the world will be so much nicer than it was before.”

No matter what Wasan does – shadow-puppet play, songs, reading books – he makes art sincerely and consistently. That sincerity and consistency lets us know that Wasan Sittiket was the author and source.

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