Tribal Trappings – Asian Ethnic Art, Artifacts, Textiles and Folk Art Tribal Trappings – Thoughts about Thailand, Chiang Mai, things tribal including textiles, ethnographica and folk art <data:blog.pageTitle/>

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wrapped Up in Art - Wattana Wattanapun

It's not always easy to catch Wattana. He has friends all over the world from teaching and exhibiting his art, and he travels widely. We were fortunate to recently spend a pleasant Sunday afternoon visiting him at his home/gallery/studio in the verdant neighborhood at the base of Doi Suthep. Wattana is justifiably well known for his original approach to painting and his creative use of traditional culture, specifically textiles, to convey a timely range of subject matter. Painting on a variety of materials, including bamboo blinds, furniture and objects, as well as engraving on stainless steel, he often uses female forms enveloped in the rich texture of traditional textiles to evoke the corruption of the cultural environment and to make us question the nature of beauty.

Usually the textiles depicted are in the form of the ubiquitous 'phaa sin', or tubeskirt, which is still worn here for ceremonial occasions. He blankets female forms with it, often smothering them in sinuous, finely patterned stripes of rich color and ominous black. In some works the body is totally obscured by the fabric, with only the folds and curves of the stripes giving it form.

Some new works on stainless steel play games with the idea of the pliability of cloth by depicting it on cold, smooth, flat steel; backlighting makes it even colder and less tactile as the panels seem to float, out of reach, on the wall.

Thailand's cultures are numerous, and are especially rich here in the north. But all cultures are not equal, with what he calls "marginal cultures", and especially females, vulnerable to exploitation and greed by the dominant cultures. His work uses the inherent symbolism of the textiles, which is almost innately known here, and makes us think about how the minorities of gender and ethnicity are affected by the cultural majority. It's strong stuff, but rendered with beauty, sensitivity, and hopefulness.

Wattana's home is a gallery, with innovative, movable wall panels, each covered with framed works of art so that one can get a full view of the range of his oeuvre over the years. He has made prints, painted with acrylics, water colors, used mixed media, and is now engraving steel. If you're in Chiang Mai and want to be inspired, or just feast your eyes, call Wattana for an appointment to visit. You may even find a textile-covered muse to take home with you!

Wattana Wattanapun
100/1 Soi Wat Umong
Moo 10, T. Suthep, A. Muang
Chiang Mai

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chiang Mai Secret - Dok Mai Garden

This week I spent an enjoyable afternoon touring Dok Mai Garden, south of Chiang Mai. As with so many of the best things in life, this is the result of following ones' bliss. Both Khun Ketsanee and her husband Eric, a botanist, are dedicated growers, nurturers, and thankfully, educators in that they want to share their knowledge and gardening experience, and have opened their project to the public for that purpose. Cultivated for barely three years now, it has some thriving specimens which show just how quickly things grow here in the tropics. Some of the plants are rare in Thailand, as exemplified by the one on the cover of their brochure: a citrus medica var. sarcodactylis, known as 'Buddha's Hand' and used in China as a special offering on altars. Evidently this plant has attracted the attention of local Thais, and many have visited the garden just to see this one plant. But there's so much more in their 24 rai, or 9 acre, garden: over 700 different plants, including 125 different vegetables and 90 species with edible fruits or nuts. One area is designed with special plants solely to attract butterflies; another area enclosed in black rods and 'guarded' by a menacing statue of a snarling lion contains only toxic plants, some of which are dangerous to even touch(!). I particularly liked their open-minded attitude about all living creatures, pests included, which entails using nature to fend off predators. Fertilizer is also natural, with much of it provided by a handsome pair of water buffalo. I saw many plants that I'd never seen before, such as that which supplies us with the wonderful white Thai peppercorns called 'phrik Thai' in their dried form; in their fresh form they are what the French refer to as 'poivre vert', or green peppercorns, and are also used in Thai cooking. I must get one now that I know what to look for! I was also pleasantly surprised to see several fruit-bearing cashew nut trees, from which I gleaned a souvenir to bring home to Robert to plant. There were many more surprises, but you'll just have to go and find your own!

Dok Mai Garden is open every day, but it is suggested that you call ahead and let them know you're coming. They have a website, and their phone number is 66/089/433-9045. A nice garden restaurant, and shop with botanical literature and fine crafts add to the experience.

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