Diverse perspectives of Thai artists living in the Deep South
By Dipali Gupta
Kuala Lumpur-based A+ Works of Art begins 2019 with a group exhibition presenting the works of five Thai artists Marnee Maelae, Samak Kosem, Anuwat Apimukmongkon, Ahama Sa-I and Amru Thaisnit. It is curated by Penwadee Nophaket Manont. Aptly titled ‘The Enmeshed’, the show is a layered entanglement of bright and dark narratives that open the way to navigate difficult circumstances of the Deep South in Thailand and challenge long-standing notions of Thai nationalism.
Through the show, A+ Works of Art aims to sensitise a broader base of viewers to problems closer to home. It connects the minority groups in the region of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat with a larger community in neighbouring Malaysia.
The multimedia exhibition, which includes photography, installation and video, provides a diverse look at personal perspectives of a socio-political situation. Upon entering the gallery space, one encounters a single-channel video, ‘Sheep’, by anthropologist Samak Kosem. Interested in queer studies, Muslim culture and non-human relations, Samak tackles the notions of alienation and exclusion felt by the minority of Thai Muslims in this region. Using the totem of a sheep, the artist investigates social and religious connotations and juxtaposes them with narratives from across Thailand and the stories from the Deep South. In its simple yet thought-provoking manner, the video takes an alternative approach to presenting the difficulties faced in the region. As a non-native anthropologist, Kosem steers away from notions of violence and decentralises the human in his work. By focusing on the non-human, Kosem brings attention to the other growing complexities that characterise the Deep South.
The historical monarchic regime of Thailand has been privy to creating a social structure dividing people into hierarchies. Thai nationalist ideology, with an emphasis on the Thai-ness of people, depicted through the tropes of Thai Buddhism, language, royal culture and arts led to a culture of exclusion, especially of the minorities. The photography works of Anuwat Apimukmongkon, ‘Speak Thai’ address this myth of nationalism through the bisexual character of ‘Banglee’. Cast as the ‘other’ in Thai society, Anuwat’s partly flamboyant photographs are overlaid with propagandistic songs and texts that project nationalist pride and promote a sense of unity. The images are an exploration of the underlying tension of inclusive nationalism which questions the nation’s ability to accept others.
It is this same sense of Thai nationalist ideology that shapes the current environment of unrest with clashes of cultures and religions in the region. Amru Thaisnit’s personal experience of losing his loved ones during a civil unrest has compelled him to dig shallow graves in the shape of bullets as part of his video installation, ‘The Memento’. Despite his personal loss and an air of desensitisation to violence amongst the locals, Amru hopes that his work will encourage creative problem solving rather than inhuman brutality.
The idea of Islamic beauty has been forgotten in the midst of the region’s unrest and resistance to Islam. The works of Ahama Sa-I and Marnee Maelae aim to challenge Islamic stereotypes and balance the show with gentle quietness and aesthetic beauty. Marnee explores Islamic virtues that protect the soul through the materiality of mosquito-nets. Her mixed-media insallation, ‘Grace and Time Transformation’ bears connotations to her own existence of living with ‘nature, religion and society’. The transparent swathes of mosquito fabric drenched in light colours, folding, overlapping, and inscribed with Arabic texts represent time and change linked to her religious practice. Ahama Sa-I, on the other hand uses batik printing to convey aspects of religious belief and its beauty of the universe. His geometric wall installation merges aesthetics of beauty through abstraction with traditional forms of art making.
Penwadee Nophaket Manot’s curatorial endeavour succeeds in bringing the vulnerable minorities onto a central contemporary art platform. For her, ‘The Enmeshed’ is ‘a diary of social documentation’ that defies the audience’s perception and knowledge about ambiguities in socio-political norms and history.
The works are priced from RM1,200 to RM10,000 and the exhibition will run from January 10 to January 31, 2019.