Through sheer coincidence, I ended up at an art gallery in Bangkok while looking for something else. Carpediem gallery is on the busy Ploenchit Road that has also seen a facelift due to the infrastructure improvement in Bangkok. As I entered the art gallery, I could not help noticing a Buddha image painted in black, with a distant light making the entire mood alive and personal. I was told that this painting was a creation of Pearapong Khireewong, a thirtysomething artist from southern Thailand.
Noticing my interest, the gallery owner led me to the artist’s other works, which were remnants of an exhibition entitled "Silent Wish." I was absolutely stunned by the originality of the works and the range of emotions they evoked. Pearapong's exhibition was inspired by southern Thailand’s politics, which have bedeviled Thai society and undermined the progress that the country has achieved in a short span of time. The paintings captured the pathos of the bullets that were sprayed on the local population, and later the peace offensive by the now deposed Prime Minister Thaksin.
The painting above is entitled Bullet Holes in Narathiwat (Acrylic on canvas, 130 x 150 cm). This work has an eerie mood, yet the light – almost poetic – makes a powerful statement. The lone paper bird – a handout from the government – holds a precarious position, almost as if it were trying to break a stone wall.
Another outstanding work is entitled Monument of the Selfless Heroes (Acrylic on canvas, 120 x 150 cm – see the image on the right). Here the light conveys hope and tidings of renewal. As noted above, the paper birds were used to calm the restive provinces. Pearapong puts these birds in touch with the eternally peaceful Buddha, and in several images they appear whispering in his ears. Regarding the birds, this news item provides some detail:
"Military aircraft gently bombed southern Thailand with 100 million paper birds…in a gesture intended to promote peace in mainly Muslim provinces where more than 500 people have died …in attacks by separatist militants and countermeasures by security forces."
The artist grew up and worked in the southern province of Phang-Nga, where Muslim insurgency has been a continuous trend for many decades. Interestingly, he is not a graduate of any art college, but was trained by a painter of movie posters – quite an intricate art form in an age when digital printing was not the order of the day. Pearapong's teacher recognized his potential and predicted his success. Small wonder that at a young age, Pearapong started to design book covers, and to paint full-time after moving to Chiang-Mai, an ideal setting for artists.
Pearapong has participated in exhibitions since 1991, including several prestigious national ones. He has won several awards, including prizes for postage stamp designs. In the past few years, his paintings have dealt with light, peace, and healing, as the images in this post indicate.
The brochure for the exhibition "Silent Wish" notes:
"Dramatic and monochromatic, Pearapong is an artist who has proven with his collection that even during vicious, ongoing war, art can convey a call for something as intrinsic as peace, with beauty, imagination and elegance, all in a silent breath."
This is quite an apt description. Art has always been relevant to the human condition and is a primordial expression of peace and hope.
Across Asia, experiments in art are surprising conventional critics as new genres and mediums truly reflect a region coming of age. Thailand is no exception to this trend. Artists such as Pearapong are confirming the relevance of art to a tolerant society.
The author would like to acknowledge that the images above have been borrowed from the website of the Rama IX Art Museum Foundation.Powered by Sidelines