Category Archives: Thailand

The old informs the new

In Victory over Mara, Panya Vijinthanasarn fills the torso of a bodhisattva with an image of the World Trade Centre and other symbols of difficult times.

In Victory over Mara, Panya Vijinthanasarn fills the torso of a bodhisattva with an image of the World Trade Centre and other symbols of difficult times.

Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Sunday Nation
February 15, 2015 1:00 am

The triumph of Thai neo-traditional art lies in reviving classical themes with modern context

“THAI NEOTRADITIONAL ART” is the new group exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, but, with his booming voice, feisty personality and irrepressible humour, Chalermchai Kositpipat couldn’t help being the centre of attention at the opening last week. His fellow artists readily forgive his brashness, though, because he’s done so much to bring art to a wider public, and particularly Buddhist art.

His works are on view along with pieces by Panya Vijinthanasarn, Sompop Budtarad, Rearngsak Boonyavanishkul, Thongchai Srisukprasert and Alongkorn Lauwatthana. Panya and Sompop are the guiding lights behind this Thai “neo-traditional” movement that emerged in the late 1970s, making aesthetic practices of the past relevant to the present.

Most of the 50 paintings and sculptures in the exhibition are from the collection of the museum’s founder, Boonchai Bencharongkul, who just-published third book on the museum’s art covers these six artists. They were among the 30-odd Thai artists who created the murals at Wat Buddhapadipa in London in the mid-1980s.

“Obviously the Wat Buddhapadipa mural project was pivotal, but the real milestone for the movement was the founding of the Department of Thai Art in 1976 as part of the Faculty of Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Arts at Silpakorn University,” says Chalermchai, one of its first two graduates.

“Ajarn Chalood Nimsamer wanted to pass on the traditionally employed techniques, but he allowed the range of motifs and styles to be expanded, with broader media and materials, beyond the confines of traditional temple art.”

The murals at the temple in London’s Wimbledon neighbourhood illustrate the usual religious scenes not with tempera but with acrylic and spray-paint. Artistic licence extends to depictions of Britain’s then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the Eiffel Tower in Chalermchai’s rendering of Three Worlds. Panya found room for America’s Ronald Reagan and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi – the latter sporting two heads. Continue reading

Opinion: Venice Biennale spat could be just what Thailand’s art scene needs

Thai artist Tassananchalee Kamol. Image via Tassananchalee’s Facebook page.

Thai artist Tassananchalee Kamol. Image via Tassananchalee’s Facebook page.

By Saksith Saiyasombut & Siam Voices Jan 16, 2015

By Thitipol Panyalimpanun

Looking at a newly finished abstract painting by highly respected Thai artist Kamol Tassananchalee, with a caption saying the artist will be representing Thailand at this year’s Venice Biennale, the Olympics of the art world, Thip Sae-tang raised a question on Facebook. Finding out the selection was carried out behind closed doors, Thip, who is the son of another respected artist Jang Sae-tang, asked about legitimacy and transparency of the process, before more people in the Thai art scene joined the conversation with different opinions. A heated argument ensued; names were called; and the media coverage followed.

While this exchange of slurs and vulgar words does not much help unite people in Thai art, it might actually do it a favor. Not only did it gain Thai art public attention, it asked an important question: “Who has the right to choose what represents Thai art?” The dispute brings into focus the ongoing friction between the traditional idea of Thai contemporary art and those looking to break it.

Kamol Tassananchalee, whose artwork often drew its essence from the philosophy and spirit of Buddhism, is undoubtedly a seminal Thai artist. He was awarded the title National Artist in 1997, founded the Thai Art Council USA and has been exhibited in many international exhibitions. No questions too were raised against his contribution to Thai art, but it was his artistic merit today compared to other Thai contemporary artists that was under debate. Kamol was one of the artists who at one point were the delegates of Thai modern art, along with the two most locally famous Thai artists, the loud and provocative Chalermchai Kositpipat and the late Thawan Duchanee, whose death last year was grieved by the nation.

The emergence of what we see today as the major style of Thai modern art, one that occupies the major part of The National Gallery, started back in 1923 when Italian sculptor Corrado Feroci came to Thailand to work on national monuments. He later took post as a teacher, assumed the Thai name Silpa Bhirasi, and became the father of Thai contemporary art. Bhirasi guided his students to progress from working as copyists of Thai classical art to pursue their own initiative. The Italian introduced the techniques, theories (up until Post-Impressionism) and aesthetic values of Western art, while encouraging artists to look at their roots to produce new work. His students became teachers, and many of them national artists. Bhirasi’s legacy certainly lived on and, indeed, the father of Thai contemporary art has been influential. But what mattered more was the preserved value that was kept along this close knitted mentorship. Continue reading

Buddhist monks taught to handle national religious heritage

BANGKOK, 22 December 2014 (NNT) – The Fine Arts Department have educated Buddhist monks in Bangkok and the vicinities about how to take care of national heritage in Buddhist temples.

Director of the Office of Archaeology under the Fine Arts Department Thraphong Sricuchart said educating the Buddhist monks about cultural and art properties was part the office’s project to conserve Thailand’s heritage, especially paintings and sculptures. It was necessary for the monks to know to handle their temple’s invaluable properties which were the sources of local culture and wisdom, said the director.

40 monks participated in the project which took place at Wat Suwannaram Ratchawihan in Bangkok. Mr Thraphong added the office also encouraged the general public to help conserve national heritage with Buddhist temples.

Correspondent : Suwit Rattiwan
Rewriter : Suwit Rattiwan
National News Bureau & Public Relations:


Ayutthaya promotes bicycle tour to nine temples

National News Bureau of Thailand

AYUTTHAYA, 28 December 2014 (NNT) – Ayutthaya Province today launched a bicycle tourism project which promotes at the same time culture and Buddhist values of its people.

The “Home-Temple-School, leading Thai Ways of Life” project was opened by Mr. Suebsak Eiamvijarn, Deputy Governor of Ayutthaya, in a ceremony attended by hundreds of participants including chiefs of governmental units, local officials, community leaders, members of Ayutthaya Cycling Club as well as youths and children.

Ms. Atchara Onchan, Director of the Culture Office of Ayutthaya, said that the project is created by her office in cooperation with the provincial administration. It invites bicyclists to ride to nine temples in the province covering a distance of 30 kilometers. The nine temples are Wat Tha Sutthawat, Wat Nok Krachap, Wat Phai Lom, Wat Sao Thong, Wat Boon Kan Na Wart, Wat Prasat Thong, Wat Bot, Wat Kao Hong and Wat Sainoi.

According to Ms. Atchara, bikers will be able to learn the importance of Buddhist teachings and enjoy the long history of ancient remains, local traditions and ways of life. At each temple, they can pay homage to Buddha images and pray for themselves and their families.

During the trip, they can also learn the philosophy of sufficiency economy adopted by each community.


100th Day of Chiang Rai’s Thawan Duchanee Death Marked by Religious Ceremony

30222443-01_bigChiang Rai Times

CHIANG RAI – A Religious ceremony to observe the 100th day anniversary of the death of national artist Thawan Duchanee has taken place at Tawan’s residence and museum in Chiang Rai.

Hundreds of people joined by artists, arts students from 18 districts throughout Chiang Rai, local people and Buddhist monks. Presiding over the rites was the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Apinan Poshyananda.

Tawan’s relics were paraded by his admirers and were installed in the wood castle in his residential compound by his son Doytibet Duchanee. High-ranking Buddhist monks of Chiang Rai performed the religious service for the late national artist.

Thai artist Thawan Duchanee is one of the foremost representatives of Thai and Asian art. His penchant for traditional Asian motifs and styles and his flamboyant personality have earned him popularity and renown as one of the leading lights of the international art scene. Continue reading

Mystical creatures in Buddhist temple

Bangkok Post

Have you ever been to a Buddhist temple that has statues of a pirate, an American Indian, a Viking, ancient Chinese warriors, cupids, Che Guevara, a Pharoah, mythological figures and other world famous characters all gathered in one place? Welcome to Pariwas Ratchasongkram temple on Rama 3 area. According to the temple’s chief sculptor, art has no boundaries or rules and he hopes that his artwork will attract more visitors to the holy site. (Photos by Jetjaras Na Ranong)


Thailand’s ‘Gong Highway’

Thailand’s “gong highway” starts 30 miles outside Ubon Ratchathani and ends in Khong Chiam, a fishing village on the cliffs of the Mekong River. Here, a Buddhist monk demonstrates strikes a…gong at a temple in Ubon Ratchathani Province. Credit Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

Thailand’s “gong highway” starts 30 miles outside Ubon Ratchathani and ends in Khong Chiam, a fishing village on the cliffs of the Mekong River. Here, a Buddhist monk demonstrates strikes a…gong at a temple in Ubon Ratchathani Province. Credit Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

The New York Times
DEC. 18, 2014


It’s a noisy day at the gong factory.

Between the bangers, the bongers, the grinders and the polishers, there’s not a square inch of silence to be found. The hardware symphony is punctuated by the putt-putt of passing motorbikes and, amid the mayhem, a gong tuner searches for the right sound.

Facing a nearly finished gong hanging from a tree limb, the tuner strikes it dead center with a mallet and listens. Then he takes a ball-peen hammer and whacks the upper right corner twice. He switches back to the mallet, strikes the gong and listens again. Not satisfied, he keeps repeating the process, whacking different parts of the gong with the hammer.

“He’s stopping the dissonance,” explained Warong Boonaree, known as Yodh, about the alternating banging and bonging. “He wants to make just one sound project out.”

This is the soundtrack along Thailand’s “gong highway,” a 21-mile stretch of road in the easternmost corner of the country. It starts 30 miles outside the area’s largest city, Ubon Ratchathani (called Ubon locally), and ends in Khong Chiam, a fishing village on the cliffs of the Mekong River that overlooks Laos. Mr. Boonaree, an optical shop owner by trade, a horticulturist by training and a musician by passion, is our guide and translator, which is an essential service in this isolated region of Thailand that sees few foreign visitors.

“Normally tourists come to Ubon and go straight to Laos,” Mr. Boonaree, 33, said. “You just go to the border of Laos and you will see foreigners. But not here.”

As the road trip began, Mr. Boonaree obligingly changed the car stereo CD from ’80s disco to molam, traditional Lao songs accompanied by traditional Thai instruments. Mr. Boonaree plays three of these instruments, and promised a brief concert at the end of the day.

Skirting Ubon, the drive proceeded through the town of Phibun Mangsahan — past a crowded street market selling everything from athletic shoes to knobs of ginger to motor scooter tailpipes — then crossed the Mun River and on to Route 2222, a flat, two-lane road edged by scrub brush, rectangular rice paddies, swaths of adolescent rubber trees, a few modest houses and, by an unofficial count, 18 gong stores.

Gongs, once the punch line of a ’70s TV talent show, are serious business here. Families have been making them for generations and, according to the Tourist Authority of Thailand, the area supplies gongs to most of the country’s more than 30,000 Buddhist temples.

“Gongs are everyday alarm clocks for the monks,” Mr. Boonaree said. “They get up at 4:30 in the morning. First a little bit of meditation, then a little bit of a walk to get fed.”

The gong industry is centered on the village of Sai Mun. Some 50 local family-owned operations make gongs — about 7,000 a year — as well as bells and drums. But on this morning, the gong business seemed to have fallen silent.

After passing the third closed gong store, Mr. Boonaree looked perplexed. “Might be Sport Day,” he said, explaining that villages set aside one day a year for the residents’ athletic activities.

But then Mr. Boonaree struck up a conversation with a local woman. Continue reading

Inspired in Chiang Rai

30249008-02_bigCarleton Cole
Special to The Nation December 3, 2014

The Kingdom’s northernmost province captures the spirit of larger-than-life Thais who left their imprint on the land

The provocative take on time-transcending Buddhist values that is the signature style of National Artist Thawan Duchanee, who passed away in September, permeates his greatest masterpiece, Baan Dam, the Black House. In many of the 40-odd Lanna-style buildings of this museum village a short drive north of Chiang Rai town, and especially the biggest of them, images of animals leave and indelible imprint on the subconscious.

Baan Dam is most memorable for its wildly elongated, curvaceous chairs crafted from spiralling horns and massive antlers, as well as skulls built on a matrix of swooping buffalo horns affixed together in ways that somehow look as if nature intended them that way. The hooked beaks and signature protuberances of long-deceased hornbills stand high above massive clamshells they’ll never have a chance to pry open.

The power of Baan Dam is at its most poignant when viewing the surreal, improbable centrepiece of a crocodile head turned around and peering down its own metres-long hide on a table in the main building. Walk towards the outdoors past an elaborate buffalo-horn chair to the Ramayana Hall and another epic tale of Good battling Evil awaits.

In his book “Thawan Duchanee: Modern Buddhist Artist”, Russell Marcus opines that in Thawan’s paintings, crocodiles represent the dangers of grasping and craving in Buddhism. The powerful internal spaces, and long shadows create ample room for new thoughts to seep in and older ones to emerge. Yet the stillness resonating from less obvious, discreetly situated, small Buddha images somehow intrinsically override the more obvious animal energy of the room’s mind-catching cornucopia of horns, snakeskins and other various reptilian remains.

A quote of Thawan’s in Marcus’s book encapsulates the essence of it all: “What has a man got to leave behind except his wisdom brought out through his work? If I don’t leave something behind when I’m dead I shall be outdone by a buffalo.”

And Thawan left plenty behind. “The Lanna people will remember you,” reads one of the displayed tributes marking his recent death, revealing the deep affection of the locals for the artist. “You drew with your heart.”

Indeed, the overall feeling of Baan Dam is hardly one of foreboding, but one of serenity, as outside the creosote-blackened structures are Zen rock gardens that allow plenty of room for contemplation. Crowning the rather ethereal, elongated classical-Lanna structures, kalae, representing crossed buffalo horns and a symbol of Lanna culture, and swooping chofa finials, shoot skyward, reaching for daylight like branches in this peaceful, forested setting, blurring into the treetops and directing the gaze skywards, away from the mundane world.

Though best known for paintings and architecture, Thawan also had a way with words, including this inspiring poem: “May love bring us together; may we become the trees, streams and moments of forests, rivers and time.”

Motivation of a more earth-bound kind consumes a lesser-known attraction even closer to Chiang Rai town: Baan Jompon P Pibulsongkram, or the Home of Field Marshal Field Marshal P Pibulsongkram.

Built in 1941 on a thickly forested hilltop, the exterior of the cosy two-storey Swiss-style home with the almost-unheard-of-in-Thailand feature of a basement is beautified by flower gardens. The building served as the headquarters for the Thai force known as the Phayap Army, or Northwest Army from 1942-1946, when that fighting force led Thailand’s invasion of Chiang Tung in Burma. In the second-floor bedroom, a statue of the field marshal looks out towards a wall displaying a few of the Thai Cultural Mandates he promoted, including ones on the sacredness of nation building, and related powerful messages that echo all the way to today, such as, “We are not concerned about the war outside the country. We are more concerned about fighting each other. To whom will we sing the National Anthem if we kill each other?”

In 2011, the home was renovated and converted into a learning centre and opened to visitors last year. In rooms and alcoves on the second floor, the biography and times of Pibulsongkram are explained in Thai signage.

Pride of place in the hierarchy of motivational messages filling the home is this quote dramatically displayed beneath a portrait of the leader, “Even in the case of being defeated, we would only give up the land, not the people,” followed, by in small print, “These words are meant to motivate the Thai Army in the East Asia War”, or World War II, with the unwritten subtext being that a certain spin was required to digest the occupation by Japanese forces.

Looking past the figurines of muay-thai boxers at the elegant European-style garden in front of the home, visitors may be tempted to consider the Tai Yai people, or Shan, in Chiang Tung and the reasons for Thailand’s martial spirit in expanding and/or reclaiming its empire in all four of the country’s neighbours during World War II.

Transitioning from the military spirit to nature is smoothly accomplished in the adjacent Coffee Jompon cafe, promoted by a motto that seems right in line with the flow of things these days: “Happiness for the mind”.

Beyond the inspirational tales of larger-than-life characters that left their mark on Chiang Rai, lies the greatest source of awe in the province: nature itself. In jungles and gardens throughout the verdant province, creatures of all kinds celebrate the flora as they hunt, flirt or simply flit about. This spirit is perhaps most purely expressed in the province’s millions of multihued flowers, fragile symbols of an unshakable peace forever regenerated, and instigators of the seeds of highest inspiration.


Film Review: ‘So Be It’

OCTOBER 28, 2014 | 12:55PM PT

A gentle, fascinating documentary about the central role of Buddhism in Thai society.

Richard Kuipers
A fascinating documentary about the role of Buddhism in Thai society, “So Be It” follows the experiences of two young boys learning about life through close contact with the faith. Made by the high-profile indie team of helmer Kongdej Jaturanrasmee (“P-047”) and producer Soros Sukhum (“Wonderful Town,” “36”), this accessible item deserves to find an audience locally and is worth the attention of fest programmers and specialty offshore outlets. Pic will receive a limited theatrical release in Bangkok on Oct. 30.

Continuing his interest in projects made on a much smaller scale than the commercial hits he’s scripted or co-written (“Tom Yum Goong,” 2005; “Happy Birthday,” 2008), Jaturanrasmee gives viewers who may know little or nothing about Buddhism a helping hand in the opening segs. It begins with footage of Thai school teachers telling students why Buddhism is important, and explaining the basic principles of self-control and respect for others. This is followed by a voiceover narrator relaying an illustrated version of the story of Sakka and Puri, monks who left their homes to gain knowledge of the physical and spiritual worlds. The documentary returns to this tale occasionally to draw meaningful parallels with the progress of its subjects.

Introduced first is Sorawit William Caudullo (hereafter called William), a Thai-American 7-year-old who became a social-media star after appearing on “Samanean Pruk Panya,” a reality TV show following boys participating in the Buddhist ritual in which heads are shaved, monk robes are donned and the first formal Buddhist study is undertaken. Since finishing his lessons, William has expressed a desire to learn more about Buddhism; he’s taken by his approving parents to a temple in far-north Thailand to visit monk Sanan Titameto, the teacher he met and admired during production of the TV show. Continue reading

Fire in the sky

A young Shan girl performs the King Kala Bird dance.

A young Shan girl performs the King Kala Bird dance.

THE NATION October 15, 2014 1:00 am

Shan-speaking communities in Mae Sariang celebrate the end of the Buddhist Retreat in a colourful way

Like many ceremonies across Thailand, Ohk Wah is all about the Lord Buddha. According to the scriptures, he visited his mother in heaven for three months over the Buddhist Lent or Vassa and when he returned to earth, both men and creatures rejoiced at the news of his arrival.

“The King Kala bird, a half-bird, half-woman, was the first to see the Lord Buddha returning,” begins Praphan Wiriyaphab – a Shan “wise man” from the small town of Mae Sariang in Mae Hong Son province.

“A bird of joy, she performed a beautiful dance for the Lord Buddha in order to show her respect.

These days the Shan people do more than just dance to demonstrate their respect and display their beliefs. They mark the “arrival” of the Lord Buddha, which coincides with the end of Buddhist Lent, with a three-day festival that brings light and colour to this remote backwater close to the border with Myanmar.

“Ohk Wah” as it is known in the Shan language or Ohk Phansa in Thai, was held last week and drew visitors, both local and foreign, to admire this annual showcase of Shan culture.

“The celebration was far more humble 100 or so years back,” Praphan adds. “Back then, the locals put up altars made of bamboo in front of their house. They would craft lanterns and hang them along the altars.

“They kept the firewood burning all during the night as they waited for the arrival of a respected Buddhist monk to whom they would present alms.”

Continue reading