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/>

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chiang Mai Secret - Vichit's Studio

Nobody expects a world class exhibition space with art from some of Thailand's most respected artists out in the rice fields of San Kamphaeng, but Vichit's Studio and Gallery is just that. It gives us great pleasure to have this special place not too far from our home. Vichit Chaiwong is well known in Chiang Mai art circles as the visionary behind the trendsetting Gong Dee Gallery on Nimmanhaemin Soi 1. Recently he decided to retire from the high profile life of the retail world and return to his roots- literally, to his family land among the rice fields, and also to his passion for painting. To this end, he created this new gallery and studio space next to his home, on 5 rai of land. Comprising a commodious light-filled 'art barn' and sculpture garden, it defies expectations in its design and content. The building is grandly proportioned and finely finished with marble floors, neutral-colored walls, huge movable wall panels for displaying art, and plentiful, but diffused, light from overhead skylights. All the walls display art, with one end wall also lined with shelves overflowing with art books. At the other end is a studio space with a scattering of easels and a constantly changing array of students' works in progress- Vichit (below at work) is also a teacher and welcomes aspiring artists of all ages to learn and work under his guidance (more about that in a later post). An island for coffee and a small shop area with cards, catalogs, books, jewelry and other artful objects completes the space, along with several groupings of comfortable seating.

Behind the main building, which runs perpendicular to the road, is a narrow, but long sculpture garden that looks out over an ever-changing landscape of rice fields with mountains in the background. Shaded by tall trees it is a quiet place for meditation among the art of both humans and Mother Nature. Every time I visit the view is different and one can really sense the earthbound rhythms which have given meaning to life in Thailand for so long, but which are becoming more and more difficult to find. Vichit usually joins me in the garden and delights in pointing out special plants, some of which have come from places distant from northern Thailand, or are unusual specimens of more common plants.

In addition to Vichit's beautiful and varied paintings (above and right) and found object sculptures, there are also works (below) by his friend and teacher, the late Uab Sanasen, sculptures by Steven Muthikul Jones, prints by Vorakorn Metmanorom, and photos by Angela Srisomwongwathana, among others. A grand piano in the studio gives mute testimony to the esteem given here to all the arts, and many of us are hoping for the reincarnation of the wonderful concerts and creative events formerly held at the Gong Dee Gallery. This is truly a very special and well-hidden Chiang Mai secret, but once found is not that difficult to find again, and again, and again. Call for directions, but remember that it's closed on Mondays: 053/392-733

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Democracy How?!?

I'm tired of keeping my thoughts on the recent unpleasantness under wraps. A few of you have asked about the current situation in Thailand and, after observing for quite a while, I have a few, albeit rhetorical, questions for those who say they want democracy: What exactly is your definition of "democracy"? Are angry mobs making impossible demands really a demonstration of democracy? Do you represent the majority of Thailand's voters? If an election is held tomorrow, as you demand, will you actually vote without being paid to do so? If the former prime minister whose ouster you condemn would lose the election, would you be satisfied?

Being raised in a country that prides itself on its democratic institutions (but in actuality is a republic), I feel I can ask these questions. Our so-called "democracy" is far from perfect, and I am critical of it, but it is an institution that is based on the rule of law, not of mobs holding a city hostage for weeks on end. It took time to evolve and continues to do so. For Thailand to become democratic will also require an institutional foundation that begins with a basic education and understanding by the population of civics and the rule of law. Until that happens there will continue to be petty tyrants manipulating the population for their purposes. It saddens me to say that from this vantage point, this tunnel is long and there is no light at the end.