Overpopulated and expensive, Bangkok is a problematic location for artists and many move away, often to North and Northeast Thailand.
Lacking a clear ethos and preoccupied with Bangkok, it took Thailand 40 years from the establishment of its first art school in the 1940s for related facilities to appear in Bangkok and other regional centers. Yet while these institutions continue to produce artists, no sufficient state or private infrastructure is available to graduates hoping to pursue a career. Many of those who stay in the country struggle to survive by teaching or doing odd jobs; others elect to go abroad.
When the Thai Ministry of Culture’s Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC) was established in 2003, it was both too small and too bureaucratic to support the Thai contemporary art scene effectively. Since 2006, political turbulence has destabilized the country and the development of its art scene still further, impacting in particular the state-run Bangkok Art and Culture Center. University galleries lack the funds needed to produce decent exhibitions, while private and commercial galleries are still too few in number to support local artists in an immature local market with few resident collectors. OCAC’s support has barely contributed to either sector because its contemporary art and cultural departments are isolated from the national agenda and have never been developed to the level of influencing policy.
Overpopulated and expensive, Bangkok is a problematic location for artists and many move away, often to North and Northeast Thailand. Many have relocated to Chiangmai, among them Rirkrit Tiravanija, Kamin Lertchaiprasert (co-founder of the Land Foundation), Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Navin Rawanchaikul. Angkrit Ajchariyasophon started a gallery above his noodle shop and works with the local community, while more traditional venues such as Thawan Duchanee’s Black House and Chalermchai Kositpipat’s Rongkoon Temple in Chiangrai attract a steady stream of tourists. Elsewhere, neo-traditional artist Pornchai Jaima and his friends have built an art museum in Chiangmai, and Prasong Luemuang has established a personal gallery in Lamphun.
The Northeast is widely known as a site of inspiration and production for Weerasethakul’s film and video projects. Poverty in the region, which has been oppressed by the state since it was merged with central Thailand at the end of 19th century, has long driven the local Isaan people to migrate to Bangkok. Attempts to revitalize the area include job creation schemes and project such as the annual Art on Farm, a collaboration between Jim Thompson Farm and Jim Thompson Art Center through which artists including Pratchaya Phinthong, Montri Toemsombat, and Sudsiri Pui-ock are invited to make or exhibit works addressing sericulture and agriculture within a historical and cultural Isaan context.
These vibrant activities have mostly been initiated and operated on a do-it-yourself basis by artists and private interests over the past two decades. The relative indifference of the state is noteworthy; its contribution has been minimal. What has emerged is an attempt by many artists to decentralize the Thai art scene and contribute to the regeneration of the North and Northeast, often attempting sustainability by tying in elements of tourism and microeconomics, and helping to make these areas as important as Bangkok as sites of creative production.
–Gridthiya Gaweewong is an artistic director of the Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok.