"SUBJECTIVE TRUTH" IN BLOUIN ARTINFOManit Sriwanichpoom,Tawatchai Puntusawasdi,Michael Shaowanasai01 Jun,2013|ARTIST'S NEWS
Subjective Truth, Contemporary Art from Thailand at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery
Michael Shaowanasai
"Self-Portrait with Double South Sea Pearl Earrings," a triptych of photographs by Michael Shaowanasai showing the artist dressed as the Thai queen.

 

HONG KONG — Thai artist Michael Shaowanasai is dressed as a woman, with beautiful pearls at his neck and ears. He is heavily powdered and rouged, his stiffly-coiffed hair like a helmet. In some pictures he stares serenely out at the viewer; in others, his head in bowed in prayer, and his hands — ending in sharp nails painted blood-red — are clasped in front of him.

Any Thai person would identify these images as a version of the pearl-loving Thai Queen Sirikit, and for them,  Shaowanasai’s crossdressing re-enactments will create some political frisson, raising questions about political iconography, role-playing and performance in public life.

 

The show aims to explore wider notions of history, memory and nation. “In Thailand, these are central ideas that preoccupy artists who use different means to express them,” Lenzi tells Artinfo. “The works presented in Subjective Truth use strong visuals and other playful devices to pull the viewer into a complex topic. This is conceptual art in Southeast Asian mode: art-as-conceptual-play grounded in life, artists exploiting iconography, audience participation, and aesthetics to drive home their socio-political concerns.”

The most eye-catching stuff, of course, are those with strong socio-political overtones, so to speak, though the works may not be the most subtle. Shaowanasai’s self-portraits have a certain mischievous charm, but the scrupulous placement of the Thai flag, and even pinning a Siamese puppet brooch on the monarch’s blouse, shows the artist overplaying his hand.

The monarchy gets another treatment in “Waiting for the King”, a series of 14 images by Manit Sriwanichpoom of “Pink Man” fame. The pictures depict a crowd waiting for the Thai king’s appearance on the day of the 2006 coup d’etat, which ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Because the images are in black-and-white, the yellow shirts and red shirts worn by the onlookers to define their political allegiances are less obvious — resulting in images that are caught in a suspended moment, fraught with ambiguous tension and anticipation.

Politics aside, Lenzi says that evoking uncertainty, and how artists negotiate it in today’s complex world, is one of the unifying ideas of the show. Take Tawatchai Puntusawasdi’s “Pixelated Heaven,” a skinny “temple for one” made from cut and welded sheet metal. The work references Thailand’s Buddhist heritage, and invites spiritual contemplation in its tilted, leaning structure. “The piece offers a sort of off-kilter solace. It works directly on the viewer, giving order to disorder,” Lenzi says. “Pixelated Heaven is a very positive and joyful work, transforming vulnerability into strength.”

“Subjective Truth: Contemporary Art from Thailand” is on at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery until July 10.

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