The 17th Poh-Chang International Arts Festival and Workshop in Thailand happened at the most opportune time in Bangkok. For international artists, it would mean that they can also have a chance to visit other events such as the Bangkok Design Week and the Bangkok Art Biennale 2022. Poh-Chang Academy of Arts is the first art school in Thailand and has been producing artists and art teachers for more than a century. The school has annually held the International Art Festival and Workshop in Bangkok for 17 years and it is widely known among artists all over the world. This year, it was joined by international artists from 24 countries in Asia, Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Australia.
One of the objectives of this event was to foster and promote internationalization among Thai artists. It also aims to advance the study and appreciation of the arts by giving numerous opportunities to students, instructors, academics, and amateur and professional artists alike to witness the creative process of artists and interact with both Thai and international artists, including national artists, renowned artists, invited guests, and alumni. Another purpose of the event is to cultivate international networks and linkages and encourage cultural exchange in art practice and academic purposes.
Artists created artworks at the Poh-Chang Academy of Arts campus which were then exhibited to the public at Poh-Chang Chalermprakiet Museum and featured in a journal publication. Both are platforms for Thai and international artists to showcase their work. Two hundred and four artists have accepted the invitation to participate in the production process and exhibition — 50 are international artists from 24 countries and 148 are Thai artists, including 66 from Poh-Chang Academy of Arts and several renowned national artists namely:
East and West: Artist of the Two Worlds, Dr. Kamol Tassananchalee, Visual Arts (Painting and Mixed Media) National Artist Year 1997; – Professor Decha Warashoon, Visual Arts (Print & Mixed Media), National Artist Year 2007; Honorary Professor Preecha Thouthong, Visual Arts (Painting), National Artist Year 2009; Ajarn Waranun Chutchawantipakorn, Visual Arts (Photography), National Artist Year 2009; Ajarn Amrit Chusuwan, Visual Arts (Painting-Mixed Media), National Artist Year 2020; Professor Yanawit Kunchaethong, Artist of Distinction (Printmaking), National Exhibition of Art Year 2017
Many Arrivals and A Warm Welcome
Upon the arrival of international artists to Bangkok, they were greeted by an enthusiastic welcome party from the Poh-Chang Academy of the Arts. The international artists were then taken to their accommodations at The Royal River Hotel in Bang Phlat with a picturesque view of the bustling street and Chaophraya River. Several artists arrived in Bangkok a few days ahead of the official opening. Some of them used their free days to stroll around the city, discover the street food and nightlife, and enjoy the many tourist attractions.
On the day of the official opening of the event, the participants were transported to the main venue which is the Poh-Chang Academy of Arts. Upon registration, each participant received their tote bags that included their materials such as the t-shirt, apron, pins, and identification card.
In the welcoming ceremony, the Director of Poh-Chang Academy of Arts Asst. Prof Banlu Wiriyapornprapas gave a warm welcome to international and Thai artists alike who came to the workshop. On this occasion, a cultural dance called “Nora Tua-oun” is presented to show Thai art from the south. Nora (sometimes called Manora) highlights the advanced arts of singing and dancing. The costumes for dancers are originally designed for the King in the Sukhothai Period. Nora is known to be a highly spectacular show as even back then Phraya Fa Fah Fhat (the First King of Wiang Bang Kaeo, the first city in the present territory of Phatthalung Province) was astonished by its beauty. Nora performances are often based on Buddhist teachings and Thai literature, including the popular tale of two star-crossed lovers: the young prince Pra Suthon and Princess Manorah, a kinnari or mythological half-bird, half-woman. The kinnari costume is fantastical folk art at its finest, a multicolored, beaded costume consisting of several pieces, including long, curved fingernails as well as wings and a tail that complete the avian look (UNESCO Bangkok).
After the dance, Dr. Kamol Tassananchanlee the National Artist and pioneer of this workshop introduces the international artists. After the opening, the artists then shared personal introductions over cups of coffee and snacks. Food was often the center of the fellowship of the artists. There were artists who used wood and metal sculpture, ceramics, and pottery (clay and porcelain). Those who did material-specific and three-dimensional works have their space at an outdoor alley on the ground floor. And groups of artists were provided with canvas, paints, brushes, palettes, and palette knives for the creation of their respective pieces and also worked together in the galleries. In another room, several renowned Thai artists did on-the-spot sketching and painting sessions with models sitting in for them. There were those who did prints and graphic arts as well. It was a great opportunity to observe many different media being used by artists.
While the first and second days of the event were spent creating artwork and interacting with the students, the third day of the event saw some of the participating artists present their artworks, process, and their artistic statements at a small conference. Artists from Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia draw from their environment to create sculptures, films, and installation art.
When the exhibition finally opened, the artists were joined by students, teachers, and art enthusiasts. Flags of the countries were also displayed on the stage, music was performed by bands, and Thai traditional food was served. The guests poured into the galleries to view the artworks. One could see both the diversity and unity in the exhibition.
Penchant for Gold
Idlak is the painting I created for the exhibition. It examines the link between Thai and Filipino cultures particularly the prevalence of gold in ancient tradition and mythology. The history of Thailand and the whole of Southeast Asia (including parts of what is now modern-day Philippines) go back to more than 1000 BCE. But it is around 800 BCE, Southeast Asia was named “Suvarnabhumi” or the fertile land and land of prosperity by the Indian nobles and merchants. The name was given because whichever part of Southeast Asia they landed on, there are city ports ready to trade spices and all exotic commodities. People shared the culture, beliefs, and arts, and lived peacefully in Suvarnabhumi until each city-state desired to be an independent state. Eventually, they established borders, characterized their ethnicities, and began to fight among themselves, striving to be on the top until they became different countries today.
The Hiligaynon word idlak is closely related to the word glitter. Ilonggos use this word to describe gold, especially jewels. The painting is an image of a Filipina wearing a costume based on the indigenous clothing of people from the hinterlands of Panay, particularly the headdress and blouse. The skin tone was painted in a certain way to look like a particular goddess who was described in myths as golden.
International collaborations such as the Poh-Chang International Arts Festival and Workshop are great venues for artists like me whose work is rooted in examining identities. Exploring identities in relation to the surrounding cultures is necessary because it can expand the artist’s view of the world.