by Robin Westley Martin
When Bangkok springs to mind the immediate thought is not of arts or artists. But after the success of the Bangkok Art Biennale – that ran from October 19th 2018 to 3rd February 2019 – featuring the work of more than 75 artists from 33 countries, and shown in 20 locations around the city, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors, things are looking up for art lovers in Thailand.
We were lucky to have visited most of these exhibitions, and during the course of this met and got to know several of the artists who live and work in the city, as well as the current Director of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), Pawit Mahasarinand. Their enthusiasm for their work is infectious, and was the inspiration for me to research this article.
The temples of Bangkok are a good place to start, as they have always been popular tourist destinations, and will probably be the first place where non-Thais get a taste of Thai art forms, whether it be through the buildings themselves, or the sculptures and murals found within them. So it was that a few well known temples around the city, such as Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) and Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) were chosen as exhibition sites for several of the contemporary shows presented during the Bangkok Art Biennale.
The BACC played a prominent role in Biennale too, and Khun Pawit told us that his purpose built centre for the arts is going from strength to strength, and that from its early days, when the building attracted a mere 300,000 visitors per year, that the figure had risen to more than 1.7 million visitors in 2017. That year also saw the biggest attendance for a photo exhibition, referencing the life of the late King Rama IX, and attracted 158,000 visitors over four months. But the brightest news for Khun Pawit is that the Maria Abramovich exhibition ‘A Possible Island’ in October 2018, featuring performance artists from around the world, attracted 55,000 in only three weeks… which he said was unbelievable, and bodes well for the future. Apart from these larger places to display the work of the arts community, in Bangkok there are also many smaller galleries where art lovers can have a more intimate experience, and even meet and chat with the artists themselves. Alejandro (Sacha) Franco, born and raised in New York, is a fine case in point. Sacha is a self-taught artist who came to the fore in Bangkok in 2018. He has had over 55 shows in 38 years, including his own recent exhibitions here, and he also curates the exhibitions of other artists, or artist collectives. Sacha says his highlight of 2018 was gaining respect from some Thai and international artists in Bangkok. Sacha is proud of his participation in the Queen Sirikit Gallery exhibition and the show he curated for Kalwit Studio and Gallery, and also worked on a project with Fraser Suites and Residences with 25 originals of his ‘Circulism’ abstract art, that will be featured throughout their properties on over 500 canvas prints.
Sacha said, ‘The arts scene in Bangkok is growing quickly but does not yet really have an international feel to it. Art is not just about Thai art or Thai artists… I feel there is not as much interest as there should be in international artists who live locally. Modern and contemporary art is driven by artists from the West so maybe Thailand should embrace and welcome the international artists that they have right here in Bangkok’.
In January Sacha will begin managing Silapix Art Space at WishBeer and he will participate in at least six shows, including two solo exhibitions. He will also be curating five shows at galleries around the city, bringing together local and international artists in group collaborations Arash Grovan is another interesting expat artist, hailing from Teheran, Iran. He styles himself as a Persian miniaturist, and his beautiful, precise, intricate works of art are painstakingly executed over many hours or weeks. Arash has been living in Thailand since 2009, and as an artist is always active. He participated in several exhibitions inside and outside Thailand during 2018, but the highlights for him were at The Louvre in October and the group exhibition at Queen Sirikit Gallery in Bangkok. Arash also conducts workshops with international school students in Thailand, such as that at the Art Talent show at River City.
I can already see the progress’. For 2019 Arash is working in Bangkok on new pieces to exhibit and show in Thailand, Europe and Singapore, beginning in February and continuing throughout the year. www.arashgroyan.com
It’s now time to focus on the ladies, and one of the most personable and interesting it has been my fortune to meet is Aarti Saikia, born in India, but well ensconced on the arts and social scene in Bangkok for several years now already. Aarti Saikia is a creative expressionist, a multifaceted professional – she is a poet, dancer, visual and performance artist. I have now been to several of her solo shows, and her passionate performances fill the room. She enters the performance area with a lithe and sensual grace, and all chatter in the room ceases. She commands attention with both her physical presence, and the beauty of her selfpenned poetry, orated in spellbinding dulcet tones, all combined with her
dance. I am a fan as you might guess!
Aarti’s artistic journey spans over three decades. She has trained in several dance styles including classical Indian, ballet, Spanish flamenco, and contemporary choreography. She has embraced poetry as a stylised form of creative expression. She is also the creative director of an international theatre production, ‘SoulVilla’, that integrates original and improvised spoken words, rhythm, music and dance. SoulVilla has staged two successful cultural shows at the Alliance Francaise in Bangkok. Aarti has several shows planned for 2019, and you can find out when to go by checking out her Facebook page.
Let’s stick with the ladies, and take a look at Sylvia Ong, from Malaysia. Born in Kuala Lumpur, Sylvia Ong is a contemporary artist based in Bangkok for the last eight years. She was a producer and director before abstract art charmed her into creating loose and free visualisations that blend her innermost feelings with the things around her.
Experimenting with paint in layers, bold brush strokes, evocative lines and dripping on canvas, there is a sense of the intangible and the personal making its way onto the canvas, to be interpreted in its own way by the viewer’s eye. In her abrupt drawings of figures and expressive strokes, one can discern the intensity of her feelings.
Largely influenced by her day-to-day experiences, Sylvia has learnt to appreciate the beauty of life’s surprises. It is this unexpectedness of life that projects itself into her work – some of her paintings might change forms or styles drastically in the middle of its creation, revealing a different story altogether. Casting away the rules has allowed her to create work that is beyond boundaries, capturing a raw fearlessness that is also delicate and feminine.
Sylvia’s journey as an artist is only beginning, and every piece of her work is part of her process of growing up as a professional and as a woman. She keeps herself ready for more discoveries, successes and even failures in her desire to express herself through art and make connections with the people around her. ‘
The Bangkok arts scene is totally inspiring, and 2018 has developed a wider love for art and performances – like the hotels art fairs. As a part of the audience, I would like to understand more the motivations, desires and goals of the artists or exhibitions – especially in the English language. Art is for everyone, and is a way for us all to try to understand each other just that little bit better,’ said Sylvia.
We will wind up this mini-exploration of the arts scene in Bangkok with another guy, Marcelo von Schwartz. Marcelois from Buenos Aires, Argentina, who has now made Bangkok his home. He is a film director, architect, photographer, sound architect, and he also collaborates with Aarti Saikia in presenting innovative art events in Bangkok. In 2018 Aarti and Marcelo curated the ‘Art Happening, New York 60’s
style’ “Eat my Canvas” at The Continent Hotel: a very successful food-action-painting event that will come back in early 2019 with some exciting new upgrades.
We asked Marcelo to tell us about his life in Bangkok, and this is what he told us; ‘I came to Bangkok about 8 years ago to shoot my first feature film, Dark Bridge. It got good reviews and some film festival awards. Dark Bridge is being rereleased with a remastered ‘brainwaves’ soundtrack in 2019.
I like to live in Asia, especially in Bangkok because of its extremely powerful creative energy. In 2018 I founded Seven Senses Art Company, a space to explore new concepts and expressions about art and mixed media. A few years ago I became very interested in SynestHesia and with the collaboration of the very talented artist Aarti Saikia we are exploring and developing some new immersive art experiences to be released in 2019.
Regarding filmmaking, I just finished a pilot episode for an original TV series shot in Bangkok in the Thai language and I started rewriting a project for a 3D thriller I wrote 10 years ago; I believe VR technology nowadays has developed sufficiently to make my vision a ‘reality.
Regarding some of the art events I went to in 2018 I liked the most the photo exhibitions at House of Lucie, an amazing programme with many top-ranked world photographers. It was an amazing meeting place for photographers and art enthusiasts and I can’t wait to enjoy their next step in Bangkok.
BACC also hosted great exhibitions, Photo Bangkok, and the many exhibitions I saw at Kalwit Gallery, a mix of fresh and high quality artworks, where I had the chance to meet and swap ideas with the artists, too. Bangkok in 2019 is going to be great for art lovers, I am sure. So, there it is, I hope this short look into the Bangkok art scene has piqued your interest, and I hope to see you around at a few of the exhibitions in 2019. I would be more than happy to introduce you to some of the artists and performers. Enjoy your arty 2019!