In the second of three articles highlighting individual works at the 2012 edition of the Biennale of Sydney, Art Radar talks to Thai artist Phaptawan Suwannakudt about her installation Not For Sure.
Occupying a relatively quiet space at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Not For Sure is an installation of hanging fabrics, paper scrolls and painted cardboard. In the work, Thai artist Phaptawan Suwannakudt uses dyes and pigments to overlap Thai text and mural motifs.
Other posts in this three part series
Because of the layering of pigment, Suwannakudt’s Thai inscriptions are illegible. As she explains,
In my work, painting is not painting, object is not object, drawing is not drawing…. The Thai language is [used] to express my personal view, [but was] not meant to [convey] meaning. There was the idea of making text illegible and unreadable. You can only see the language as a tool to communicate. So being illegible and unreadable could also mean [it’s] personal.
However, to Suwannakudt “personal” does not mean a one-way artistic expression; instead, she aims to inspire a dialogue with her audience.
If you live in a society, you want to communicate to people your work. You can’t go on saying ‘ladidadida’ … because of your personal issues and what interests you. You want to communicate what you think, give and take…. If the work is valid, it is my response to what happens in the day to day world. It’s kind of an invitation and exchange.
Finding common ground
Through the ongoing examination of her own personal background, Suwannakudt has also found common threads in the lives of others. The artist shared with Art Radar the story behind one of the pieces in the installation, a photo print placed in an open space in the middle of hanging textiles.
The photo was given to her by an Australian-Palestinian man who migrated from the occupied West Bank; it depicted a fading image of the doorway through which he would enter the garden of his grandfather’s house. He saw the doorway as symbolic of his development in life. He now lives in Australia and has two children, as does Suwannakudt. Unlike Suwannakudt, however, he can no longer return home.
The artist says of the work,
You have compassion for people from different backgrounds…. So when people looked at my work at a deeper level, they [could] see … that this is part of me looking out and reaching out to people who share the same society with me but don’t necessarily have the same cultural background.
Linked through relations
Suwannakudt’s participation also added another conceptual wrinkle to the Biennale’s theme “all our relations” thanks to an unusual connection to fellow Thai artist Mit Jai-Inn. When Curator Catherine de Zegher paid a visit to Suwannakudt’s studio in 2011, she commented that the artist’s works and those by Jai-Inn were “talking to each other”.
Although Suwannakudt and Jai-Inn had known of each other for a long time, they had never met in person. Upon a visit to Thailand in December of 2011, Suwannakudt met with Jai-Inn for the first time. She was surprised to discover that it was her late father, a mural painter, who had inspired Mit Jai-Inn to become an artist.
Suwannakudt grew up in her father’s studio, and it was he who had inspired her to become an artist. When Suwannakudt was ten years old, she accompanied him to one of his lectures on art held at a Buddhist temple. In the audience was nine-year-old Mit Jai-Inn, who lived there.
This discovery prompted Suwannakudt to reflect on how artists around the world are often directly or implicitly interconnected.
[Catherine de Zegher] raised that concern about how we … at some point respond to the world, react to the world and how we talk to the world. And I see this as how we make art. This is [how], we, as isolated as we are as artists, are not isolated. … To me, there is some kind of universality of human beings toward nature, toward society, toward everything.
Other posts in this three part series
About Phaptawan Suwannakudt
Phaptawan Suwannakudt was born in Thailand. During the 1980s and 1990s she worked extensively in the production of traditional Thai murals at temples and for hotel decoration projects. She also played an active role in in the organisation of women’s art exhibitions in Bangkok.
Since she moved to Australia in 1996, she has used traditional artistic techniques to communicate new narratives about the Australian landscape through the lens of Thai cultural heritage. In 2001, she won the Australia Council Studio Grant for new work by an established artist.
She has shown extensively in Australia and Thailand in recent years, including holding a solo show, “Catching the Moment: Each Step is the Past“, at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in 2010. She was also part of “Edge of Elsewhere“, a major three-year project initiated by Campbelltown Arts Centre and 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. The exhibition was part of the Sydney Festival’s 2011 and 2012 programme.
- Thai installation artist Rirkrit Tiravanija’s relational aesthatic – Studio Banana TV video interview – June 2011 – a television station interviews the Thai conceptual artist about his challenging work
- Thai artist combines Japanese cartoons with traditional Thai motifs – Bangkok Post – June 2011 – an emerging Thai artist takes aims at cross-national visual themes
- Artist Manit Sriwanichpoom’s pink prophecies for Thailand – Art Radar interview – November 2010 – another interview with an intriguing Thai artist
- Writer Steven Pettifor talks about the old and the new in Thai contemporary art – Art Radar interview – August 2010 – long-time observer of Thai contemporary art notices a schism in the local art scene
- Why is Thailand difficult for street artists? Graffiti artist Bundit Puangthong explains – July 2009 – Thai street artist who incorporates traditional visual themes into his work
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