Manit Sriwanichpoom, ‘The Mysterious Flower’
in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly, Yr. 60, Vol. 51, 6 – 12 Sept. 2013
I admit that when I first walked in to see the solo exhibition, ‘The Mysterious Flower,’ by Krisadahng Intasorn, in Gallery Number One, Silom Galeria, and saw the pictures of women adapted like Northern Thai style paintings, I thought the artist was parodying the state of Thai women nowadays.
But why present these images of women making them look so fierce, sexy and burning by painting the edges of their lips so thickly red and the edges of their eyes and their eyelids so dark? And why the annoyingly conspicuous, long, false eyelashes, so lacking in the feminine sweetness and softness of women in the adapted style of Thai painting of Acharn Chakrabhand Posayakrit?
When I read the catalog, I learned that actually, Krisadahng was referring to the third sex or gay people. So I went back to check it out another time and the question came to me that if the artist hadn’t said that these tempera paintings on screens - there were less than 10 pieces - referred to gay people, that artist would have been criticized for presenting images of Thai women in a negative light. And from the point of view of a male who really hates women. Because who makes pictures look more ugly than beautiful? The breasts and nipples are larger and rounder than life (unlike the breasts of women in the works of A. Chakrabhand, which are finely rounded and small, as befits young Asian women), and they twirl pistols and are cowboys. Especially in the work, ‘I am Cowboy,’ 2012, a young, white cowboy has been seized, tied up, and stripped naked. And in other pieces, you see images of men fallen into a situation in which they become sex objects, sex toys.
I wouldn’t dare to conclude that Thai painting, especially the mural paintings in temples, which are the origin and source of adapted Thai painting nowadays, didn’t paint or draw players or stories about gays and lesbians. There could be some, because this is nothing new, something just happening in this century, and it’s not a ‘contagious modern disease, as we know. But I’ve never seen any. So I only know of images of males, females, divinities, monks and giants. Hence, it’s not strange that when I first saw the ‘The Mysterious Flower’ show, I thought it was something about genuine women.
In which case, the challenge of Krisadahng is what can be done to make a picture of an artificial woman different from a genuine one? And I saw that the artist tries to do it by doing what I described in the foregoing. From making up the face, rouging the lips, drawing the eyebrows, putting on the false eyelashes, which are all ‘over the top’ and beyond the norm in order to get attention and set oneself apart from the crowd, including painting the breasts and nipples quite large, as if pumped full of silicone. And with tattoos like a man - - all of which Krisadahng must have taken from real life.
So why does a gay person, a member of the third sex, want to do something so ‘over the top’ of what is the norm? From making up the face and hair, the breasts, and an unnatural manner of walking: from the physical presence apparent to anyone, these are not ‘the real thing’. They go way too far to make up for what’s missing – isn’t it true? Or, the more that is lacking, the more one must insist?
The artist Krisadahng – seen on Youtube in an interview clip by Fine Art Magazine – is about 27 years old. Graduated with B.F.A. from Chiengmai University. Finished his M.F.A. (painting) at Silpakorn University. Freely identifies as a member of the third sex. Doesn’t dress as a female, but has long, straight hair, bleached gold with painted fringe. Black eyelids. Looks like a punk rock musician. Likes to play guitar and sing more than to be a traditional Lanna Thai painter from Chiengrai. P’Chalermchai Kositpipat, Krisadahng’s senior, likes to wear traditional Northern style country clothing, or dress in dark blue, like old Uncle Tawan Dachinee.
Besides trying to create a new characterization of gays in Lanna painting, what is the ‘shadow’? Is it the dark side which must be hidden? The picture, ‘I am Cowboy’, imagines the desire to grab some handsome white guy and tie him up like a sex slave. The young guy with the head of a Japanese cartoon character is bound to the kitchen wall in order to be tortured by a gang of drag queens in the work, ‘Dinner Time,’ 2011. Two Lanna guys are grabbed, hung upside down, stuck full of arrows and made to suffer. One dreams of becoming a red bride in the painting of the same name (Red Bride, 2011). None of this is particularly ‘dark’ or even extraordinarily evil. You can call these pictures fantasies, and you can see such things, generally on the walls of deserted buildings. But the artist seems to have the brakes on, not yet daring to make much of an investigation of the really ‘dark’ shadows.
The relations among the actors in these scenes obstruct what Krisadahng is trying to express. They seem to be dominating gays. Men are nothing but titillating sexual toys rather than sexual equals. The artist may be mocking Thai society which likes to ridicule and show contempt for gays and other members of the third sex. Society likes to make clowns of gays, denying them dignity. Such a painful perspective provokes anger and pain.
In any case, I’m not sure about how inviting are images that present gays or ‘artificial women’ in the tempera paintings unveiled in the scenes of ‘The Mysterious Flower’ which are ironic and self-mocking. They look like caricatures in cartoon magazines and comic books which sell for one baht each. Such presentations love to make entertaining and funny exaggerated depictions of gays like this. It’s done very well, especially with all that fine black hair, creeping, spreading and licking across the whole picture. Lacking in emotional impact, it makes one feel itching, messy and disorderly.
Speaking of irony and sarcasm, I think that what is missing from Krisadahng is a sense of humor. Which makes me think of Michael Shaowanasai, a cross-dressing male artist who turned a crisis into an opportunity by making a selling point of being gay without doing a sex change – for example, becoming a heroic ‘woman’ who comes to the aid of real women who have been sold to brothels, as in the movie, ‘Iron Pussy’. Or by putting on the yellow robe as a gay monk to reflect the realities of the lives of monks. Certainly, some people will say that the witness of gay Michael hasn’t changed the attitudes of Thai society, which still regards gays as clowns. Hence, whatever gays are going to do, [people might say that] no one is going to properly seek to find sense in their expressions or take them seriously.
Walking round the exhibition room one more time, I saw three older works, ‘Local Faces’, by Krisadahng. Each was about the size of an opened newspaper. The works date back to 2009 and were part of the portfolio the artist submitted when applying for the MFA program at Silpakorn University.
These works are drawn with lines which are very traditionalist, simple and unadorned, not yet garishly ornamented. Images of local people, city people, and wild animals. [The drawing] still doesn’t express the artist’s own essential identity, but what I liked in this set was that Krisadahng very harmoniously included characters from the contemporary world into these Lanna paintings, even some of the famous Japanese cartoon characters of which the artist is so fond.
In the first work, Krisadahng uses a large, demonic cartoon character by Takashi Murakami, a world-famous, contemporary Japanese artist who creates decorative patterns for Louis Vuitton handbags. This character becomes the villain in the picture, sallying about, hacking and slicing up Thai people, who fly apart in bits and pieces. It is as if the contemporary Japanese art has invaded the Thai, even as, in the next work, an army of Japanese cartoon characters, mounted on a giant rhino, charges forward to ram a Thai elephant, which looks smaller in size and in whatever power it will be able to muster against this attacker. You can see that the Thai forces will not be able to withstand these foreign cultural invaders.
In the third of these scenes, the Thai are utterly defeated, so they open the gate and warmly welcome these cultural colonizers in to stay. Better that [the newcomers] should take up the reins of government. The artist depicts friendly eating and drinking between the locals and the invaders. (Seeing it, one recalls the era of World War II when Japan invaded Thailand and the government of Field Marshal P. Pibulsongkram announced that Thailand was allied with the Japanese.)
To conclude, this cultural invasion pictured by Krisadahng reflects the problematic reality of Thai society. It is weaker in many respects economically, socially and culturally. So we find Yingluck Shinawatr's government falling crazily over itself to please investors in Japan with the ‘First New Car’ project [for Thai people].
About the ‘The Mysterious Flower’ exhibition, I’m not sure if paintings like these, besides giving some perverse satisfaction to relieve tension in the artist’s emotions, will make Thai society as a whole change its attitudes and basic view of gays or the third sex. The show may actually unintentionally alienate people even further.
I would offer an example of fighting to improve the Thai image of the third sex in the case of Nok Yonladda Suanyodt, a transgendered woman who ran in a local government election in Nan Province in May, 2012, and won. This reflects a notable liberalizing moment in Thai society. The people don’t look down on individuals who are neither ‘real men’ or ‘genuine women’, but are ready to give opportunities to persons who are simply determined to serve.
Unfortunately, the ‘shadow’ or darkness of Krisadahng Intasorn will have to remain hidden, for the artist is still preoccupied with the issue of sexuality and the relations between the sexes, which is much too private. Krisadahng should see things in a wider scope, an expanded and sharpened vision, so that viewers can get more benefit from the artist’s work.