Thailand remains under military rule since General Prayuth Chan-o-cha seized power with a coup d’etat in 2014 and appointed himself leader of the country. General Prayuth’s rule continues political turmoil for now a decade. Two popularly elected governments were officially dissolved during this time and major public protests resulted in a military crackdown in 2010 where eighty-five people died and hundreds were injured. The most recent coup d’etat is the 12th since 1932, a watershed year in Thai history when Siam’s long period of royal absolutism ended with a bloodless takeover by a small group of French-educated civilian and military figures. Since that time the emergent nation – named Thailand in 1939 – has seen over thirty prime ministerial appointments as the decades unfolded with government-infighting, volatile relationships between civilian and royalist groups, failures of democratic policies, the shifting status of the “free world,” the growth of communism in Southeast Asia, and shape-shifting tendencies for nationalist rhetoric, amongst manifold other pressures. The current political situation in Thailand is allowing a re-entrenchment of various institutions to maintain vested interests, a re-writing of the constitution and a re-structuring parliament to pre-empt the possibility of a return to power of the type of administrations that were freely elected since the turn of this century.
Dusadee Huntrakul’s expressive works on paper and small objects highlight and intersection of the personal and collective. Some of the works were not created by the artists but exchanged over the years with family and friends. These artworks are a means to maintain memories and connections while relationships often shift, change or disappear. Highly metaphoric, the sometimes surreal forms beg us to think of the multiple traditions that objects and images can belong to and insist on our common humanity for memory and emotions. Also included is Dusadee’s epic Tracing Aihwa Ongs Buddha Is Hiding, where the artist traced, and framed individual pages of, the text of this account of the experience of Cambodian émigrés in the US and their negotiation of a foreign culture. Here the creative, intellectual, and experiential meet in Dusadee’s rendition.
Torlarp Larpjaroensook’s assemblages of found objects similarly possess an appearance of strangely compelling forms. Torlarp is interested in the devotional use of different objects in Thai homes, as Thailand is a deeply animistic country. In these works, he intersects ideas of superstitious worldviews with notions of invention and change and many of his works suggest a practical function. How can we change as a society, he asks, and what beliefs should we continue to uphold or not?
Soichiro Shimizu’s paintings are highly deceptive in their detailed surface effects: illusionistic yet textural and abstract yet deeply associative. Importantly, Soichiro blends the traditions of his transnational background, between a Japanese consciousness of craft traditions and European and American expressionist art. In this respect his works reflect on limits and differences while inviting us to move beyond such. However, the artist’s interest in minutiae but on an epic scale links him to the practices of many Thai artists who ask us to look close while also suggesting we stand back, as if contemplating an expansive temple mural.
Tawan Wattuya is a highly prolific painter who brings our attention to both the beauty and pornography of popular media imagery. Famous in Thailand for his painterly provocations, for Tracing the past he skewers his home country’s social hierarchies with speedily produced works that depict street dogs and the ladies of beauty pageants. Tawan’s art asks us to consider the stereotypes and contradictions of contemporary Thailand, the culture’s love of beauty, particularly famed Thai women, and yet also the existence of terrible poverty and abject neglect which is symbolized by the dogs.
Brian Curtin - Southeast Asian Art Critic