Art of the outsider
Exhibition focuses attention on little-known genre that celebrates artists on the fringes of society
Among many different artistic genres, a French art term called art brut can be unfamiliar to many. Coined by French artist Jean Dubuffet in 1945, art brut is translated to English as raw art or rough art -- any kind of art production that stems purely from one's creativity and vision.
Characteristically, art brut creators have never been to art school or received proper education in fine arts, meaning they are self-taught creators. Treasuring the belief that everyone is an artist, art brut pieces are usually made by people on the fringes of society, vulnerable people, disabled people, inmates, prisoners or outcasts. In other words, art brut pieces are not done by the mainstream artists. Art brut creators do not call themselves artists.
To get public attention for such a rarely-addressed concept and to discuss the Japanese and Thai art brut movement, as well as to familiarise people with the movement, the first ever art brut exhibition in Bangkok is being held under the title of "Thailand And Japan Art Brut: Figure Of Unknown Beauty".
"Basically, this is the first time that we introduced art brut to the wider public. So many people [including] art students here in Bangkok never knew or heard about art brut. Through this exhibition, we want to empower outsider art to have a place where they can express what they want to say to the public, as well as for the public to hear them out," said Suebsang Sangwachirapiban who co-curated the exhibition with Seina Kimoto.
During the opening ceremony last month, Assoc Prof Banasopit Mekvichai, chairperson of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre Foundation, said: "Art brut is gaining popularity in recent years under the main support from the central government in each country. Thus, art no longer functions as art for pleasure but has become an integral part of our society."
The exhibition was organised by the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), Agency for Cultural Affairs, the Japanese government, the International Exchange programme, the Executive Committee for Disabled People's Culture and Arts Japan, and the Rainbow Room Foundation. The exhibition is on view at the BACC until Nov 3.
"Thailand And Japan Art Brut" introduces the various forms of works such as painting, drawing, ceramic, mixed media art and video media that are curated to fully present both nations' aspects and dimensions in art brut by 51 Thai and Japanese artists. The exhibition covers five main themes -- repetition; raw materials and creation in everyday life; desire; art born from a relationship; and for further creation.
According to Suebsang, the five themes are named after going through all the art brut pieces from the 51 creators. The first theme is called "Repetition, dense and homogeneous" because it explores the topic of rawness, which highlights the freshness and expressions that arise from within. "Raw materials and creation in everyday life" is a collection of art brut works that are made from the creators' surrounding, using materials and techniques people use in daily life. "Desire, the source, what makes them create" depicts the authors' motives, wishes and inspirations behind their production. "Art, which is born of a relationship" focuses on the relationship of the creators and people around them. Generally, art brut pieces became known because of the creators' surroundings, their families, friends or supporters. The creators do not reveal their works themselves. Eventually, "For further creation" illustrates the new attempted creation between contemporary artists and art brut creators.
The purpose of the exhibition was to acknowledge and bring attention to the small art brut community in Thailand as well as dispelling other misconceptions about art being a waste of time, doesn't earn much or people would rather want their children to focus on something else, Suebsang said.
He encourages parents, especially those with disabled children or in a vulnerable group, to support their children as artists because he believes it is a great way for them to express their emotions, thoughts and feelings.
Suebsang added that this exhibition, which is a starting point, plays a crucial role for Thailand's art brut community to be sustainable. At the same time, he wholeheartedly wishes more museums will exhibit art brut pieces.
"No one can tell the future [of the art brut community in Thailand], but I have a good feeling about it," Suebsang said. "And I think it is going to have a positive development with more help from the government."
"Thailand And Japan Art Brut: Figure Of Unknown Beauty" is on view now until Nov 3 at the Main Gallery, 8th floor, BACC. Opens daily from 10am to 9pm (except Mondays).