The Arts

Thailand on the Global Art Stage

01 Mar 2021


Dr Apinan Poshyananda, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Bangkok Art Biennale

Thailand’s art scene has been very active in the recent past, with multiple international exhibitions and the Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB), now in its second installation. Highlighting the arts and culture potential for Thailand, and enhancing its renown as travel, health, business and leisure destination. 

Dr Apinan and his team stepped up to the plate, and each day through problem-solving and crisis management leadership, each task was accomplished.

BAB 2020, which commenced 29 October 2020 and ends 31 January 2021, has been an ambitious undertaking, given the pandemic which put much of the world into lockdown in 2020, and resultant cancellations of many major international art events worldwide. However, due to its emphasis on creating a sustainable event and the fact that Thailand had been spared the brunt of the effects of COVID-19, the organizers decided that the event should go ahead.

Based on the theme “Escape Routes” and the 17 points of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a total of 82 international artists were invited to participate, with artworks installed at 10 different venues around the city; on a city route and a river route. Travel restrictions meant that there was a myriad of challenges to overcome in terms of installation, deliveries and logistics. 

Dr Apinan and his team stepped up to the plate, and each day through problem-solving and crisis management leadership, each task was accomplished.

 

For example, Mumbai-based Reena Saini Kallat had conceptualized a large piece that could not be assembled as her workers had dispersed due to the pandemic. Dr Apinan formed a team of students from King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, and via Zoom instruction, they gradually assembled the artwork following the meticulous instructions from Reena. The magnificent piece titled “Woven Chronicle” (on display at The Parq) is a world atlas woven out of electric and barbed wire that also incorporates sculpture, drawing, photography and sound, tracing the movements of travellers, migrants, labour and trade across borders.

Unable to travel, UK-based artist Anish Kapoor sent three assistants from the UK and France to help set up his work at three venues in Bangkok. After completing their quarantine, they led a team of 30 Thai workers to install the art works including “Push/Pull (2009)”, a massive 5-tonne artwork of deep red wax and oil pigment on the Carrara marble floor at the Sermon Hall of Wat Pho. Pushed and pulled by a sledge arm, it creates an experience like the breathing motions of insight meditation or vipassana.

As if the logistics of the art exhibits were not challenging enough, the organizers had to face another unexpected event – the political protests in Bangkok which peaked in October. However, this inspired a further perspective to BAB 2020, proving that art is not something intangible in an ivory tower that appeals only to a small group, but is a reflection of life and society. Art is not just beautiful; it is reality. As such, there were several exhibits that reflected the political movements, not just in Thailand but around the world. Lampu Kansanoh’s large paintings were satirical of Donald Trump and Thailand’s prime minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. Andres Serrano’s paintings employed the same ethos, and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s “Two Little Soldiers (2020)” imagined two rookie soldiers during the time of the protests, set against the sound of mobs in Bangkok.

 

BAB 2020 takes place “on the ground” and also “online”, with the help of social media platforms, Zoom, and live broadcasts of BAB Talks. Stringent measures were taken to ensure safety under the “new normal”, or “new abnormal” as Dr Apinan prefers to call it. To the delight of all concerned, the event has been hugely successful, and Dr Apinan puts this down to a lot of “prayers, concentration, problem-solving and luck”!

It has reflected Thailand’s potential and ability to adapt and compromise and to work effectively under pressure. BAB 2020 has managed, in spite of all the obstacles that threatened its preparation, and as Dr Apinan eloquently concludes, “to find, somehow, the possible escape routes”.

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