Thai women artists: Doin’ it for themselves (1997)

artdesigncafé - art Published 08 August 2010
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Specializing in monoprints, Kanya Charoensupakul has had a great influence on a number of printmakers in Thailand. For subjects in her earlier work, she started making personal, soul-searching statements combining calligraphy and Abstract Expressionism. Inspired by her experience in Japan in the early 1980s while on a Japan Foundation grant, she developed an appreciation for Zen gardens, and approached nature as a subject more directly, which has continued as an important theme in her work throughout the decade. Yet in the 1990s she became drawn to social issues. In response to the May 1992 crisis, when the military shot protesters calling for an end to the military government, she was inspired to make Flag: 17-20 May 1992 (1992). She explains; "At that time, the government censored everything and the public didn’t know what was happening. Word only traveled by word of mouth."

With this work, she painted four flags—a symbol of nationalism used by protesters before democracy in Thailand. Made on paper, she pressed them together creating eight as a critique of the military’s role and symbolic gesture to demonstrate public means of communication in response to censorship.

<h4Second wave of Thai women artists

Another artist to make a strong influence on the Thai art scene, as part of a "second wave", is Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook. She has been influential to other artists in her participation in major international shows, most recently Traditions/Tensions. A resident of Chiang Mai, Rasdjarmrearnsook has concentrated on gender and social issues. In the 1980s she focused on etchings, while in the 1990s, after reflecting on her visual experience during her study in Germany, she began to focus on installation and sculpture. Family loss has been a recurring theme, often expressed in her work by isolated and dark figures. Over the past few years Rasdjarmrearnsook has embraced the topic of female prostitution, a surprisingly taboo subject in Thailand. However, in her most recent work, she addresses themes about loneliness, insecurity, and identity through a combination of found household objects and life-size, full-bodied clay sculpture.

Two of Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s contemporaries to emerge at roughly the same time are Sriwan Janehuttakarnkit and Sermsuk Tiensoonthorn, who have chosen painting as their principal means of expression. Janehuttakarnkit, originally a printmaker, addresses subjects from natural sources, such as landscapes and seascapes and architectural forms. According to the artist, her abstract watercolors combine the influence of Chinese landscapes and Western artists such as Paul Klee, and Joan Miro, yet put in her unique "Thai-Chinese accent." Her work reflects a certain complexity, as shown with the relationship from background to foreground, as demonstrated in Summer of Color (1997). Meanwhile, Sermsuk Tiensoonthorn has had a diverse career. In her early work, she airbrushed canvases with nighttime scenes depicting high technology and modern society in strong color contrasts. In her more recent work, she has demonstrated her fascination with nature and seasonal change, which she experienced as a student in Japan, and also daytime scenes and personal journeys.

<h4Third wave

Pinaree Sanpitak’s time studying in Japan had a significant impact on her young career; [she’s part of] a "third wave" of women’s art in Thailand since the 1980s. Her subjects include eggs, breasts, her pregnancy, squashes, and cows (she was born in the Year of the Cow). Presented in a play between abstraction, representation, and non-representation, she works in a variety of media: photography, collages, mixed-media paintings, and recently sculpture, as illustrated in her most recent show, Eggs, Breasts, Bodies, I etcetera. In an earlier work, Sweet Breast (1994), Sanpitak isolates and monumentalizes the breast into a stupa form: "I am always looking for forms to express personal symbols and symbols of women." Earlier in the 1990s, Pinaree Sanpitak also ran a gallery, Silom Art Space, with her husband, artist Chatchai Puipia.