Wai Art: Finally, a lifeline for Thailand's emerging artists

Wai Art: Finally, a lifeline for Thailand's emerging artists

Opening with an exhibition that highlights the mutual respect for water observed by two very different indigenous groups, this organization aims to bring unknown art to the public
Wai Art
Wai Art's first exhibition, "Wai Naam," features the work of photographers Ekarat Nubtheursuk and Ugrid Yomyim. The photos focus on two indigenous groups in southern and northern Thailand -- the Moken and the Bru.

Making it as an artist is a tough task in most countries. In Thailand it’s all the harder due to the lack of formal art education and the paucity of exhibition space for aspiring artists who value creativity more than cash.

Fortunately, help is now at hand courtesy of Wai Art, a new not-for-profit organization set up to increase exposure for young artists by creating public spaces for them to display their work. 

The organization is hosting its first exhibition, "Wai Naam," which features the work of photographers Ekarat Nubtheursuk and Ugrid Yomyim, until the end of June at Baan Bar on Soi Rangnam, Bangkok.

Despite its recent appearance as an organization, the origins of Wai Art’s initiative to identify and promote young Thai artists under an “art for the people” concept date back almost two decades, as curator Thanom Chapakdee, who is also an academic and well-known art critic, explains.

“Wai Art was a fanzine produced by me David Johnson and Bob Garlic about 20 years ago, it was an alternative space to publish stories about the new art movement in Thailand that was developing at the time, covering the likes of the U-kabat Group, the Ruang-Pleung Space at Jatujak market and other art activities which were outside of the mainstream, such as performance art," he says.

“Wai Art lasted almost a year, but we had to stop the project due to insufficient financial support."

The Bru are an ethnic minority found in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand who congregate along the Mekong River.

While galleries have proliferated in Bangkok since the last copy of Wai Art rolled off the press, this has not significantly increased the opportunities for young artists or helped the art movement’s development in any particularly meaningful way.

The vast majority of galleries are commercial, which means “quirky” paintings that can sell for a good price gain preference over more challenging and creative works of art.

This dumbing-down of the art agenda from its peak of hard-edged political and social commentary following the 1992 Black May massacre, a dynamic which inspired the movement that included the original Wai Art, eventually galvanized Thanom and his colleagues into action. Late last year a mutual friend, Patrick Lidderdale, played a catalytic role in revitalizing the drive to bridge the gap between local creativity and publicly accessible art space.

“Patrick knows the owner of Baan Bar, he asked to utilize the second floor of the bar to exhibit the artworks,” says Thanom. “Our aim is to support and promote artists and all kinds of artistic creators, especially the new generation who want to be more experimental.

"It is about creating an open space as an intersection artist, arts and the public. That is the reason we choose a restaurant where people come to meet each other, interact, eat and rest. All of that happens in the same space. Art should be in everywhere, not only in gallery or museum.”

Wai Art“Our aim is to support and promote artists and all kinds of artistic creators, especially the new generation who want to be more experimental," says Wai Art curator Thanom Chapakdee.

About the exhibition

Wai Art has exhibitions scheduled at Baan Bar for the rest of the year, but it is also looking to expand its activities throughout the city.

Wai Naam features the work of two Thai photographers who lived with indigenous groups in southern and northern Thailand -- the Moken and the Bru.

The Moken sea gypsies, shot by Ugrid Yomyim, are a nomadic group numbering no more that 3,000 who live between Thailand and Burma. The Bru, a larger ethnic minority community found in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand who congregate along the Mekong River and number about 130,000, were photographed by Ekarat Nubtheursuk and Ugrid. 

The two groups are different in many ways but share one thing in common -- a deep respect and appreciation of water, which has been the lifeblood of the two communities for hundreds of years. 

“Through the photography of Ugrid and Ekarat we can witness the day-to-day lives of these two communities and see that despite living outside the boundaries of traditional society they have a much more profound understanding of what it means to live with nature. This is something we have long forgotten,” says Thanom.

Baan Bar is located next to the King Power Complex on Soi Rangnam, Bangkok. Call +66 (0)8 1850 5745 or +66 (0)8 1697 4866. 

Greg arrived in Thailand on his mountain bike in 2001 after cycling around Mongolia, Tibet and Nepal. After working as a journalist for more than a decade in Britain and Thailand, he recently segued over to the world of corporate communications. His website is thegreglowe.com

 

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