Messages hidden in art

Messages hidden in art

Through landscape paintings, Vacharanont Sinvaravatn explores the impact of the US military in Thailand

Messages hidden in art
Vacharanont Sinvaravatn at his landscape exhibition 'The Boundary Of Solitude'. (Photos: Somchai Poomlard)

Nakhon Phanom airport was established during the Vietnam War to facilitate the transportation of supplies and troops for the US military. The airport served as a strategic location for the US Army to access Vietnam by flying over Laos which borders Thailand.

In the landscape painting exhibition "The Boundary Of Solitude", the artwork Secret Airport by Vacharanont Sinvaravatn depicts Nakhon Phanom. To create landscape paintings, Vacharanont travelled to the Phu Phan Mountain Range border which passes through four provinces in Isan -- Sakon Nakhon, Kalasin, Mukdahan and Nakhon Phanom.

Vacharanont has an interest in landscape paintings because he believes that although they portray views that people see from the outside, they also reflect the emotions of painters.

"Landscape paintings have been used as propaganda by the government. These paintings present peaceful and fertile lands and connect people to the land they inhabit. I decided to explore areas which were once marked as red zones by the state during the Cold War because people can still see traces of state operations in these areas," the artist said.

"I discovered that the government could create red zones, effectively making them part of the Thai state. While there were many local narratives, people had to align their stories with the national narrative to maintain harmony."

Vacharanont's previous exhibitions "Countryside Before Memory" and "The Place Of Memories" featured scenes of Thailand's rural areas which have certain characteristics. These images were propaganda.

"I can unconsciously draw mountains, buffaloes, haystacks and huts or houses on stilts even though I have never seen these things in person before. I tried to explore my memories and search for the period when the countryside underwent tremendous changes. I discovered that the changes occurred after the announcement of the first National Economic Development Plan, which was launched in 1961. The plan aimed to establish basic infrastructure with the slogan 'flowing water, bright lights and convenient pathways'."

Mekong Sunrise.

Before working on "The Boundary Of Solitude", Vacharanont read several pieces of research by historians which mentioned documents about the United States' policies relating to Thailand during the Cold War, which were kept in the US National Archives. However, most of the information was sensitive and could not be revealed.

"In order to establish the US Army in Thailand, the US government provided financial support to the government of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn. Cities such as Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and Ubon Ratchathani which served as US Army bases had more economic growth than other cities," the artist said.

"I used to think the Mittraphap highway represented a friendship highway between Thailand and Laos, but it actually stands for a friendship between Thailand and the US. The Mittraphap highway extended from Saraburi to Nong Khai and was utilised to transport supplies to US troops. The highway was significant because communists employed a strategy known as 'surrounding the cities by the countryside', but communism failed in its mission because the highway turned around the strategy so that instead 'the countryside was surrounded by cities'.

From left, Mittraphap Road and The Secret Airport.

On display at SAC Gallery, "The Boundary Of Solitude" is divided into two rooms that connect to each other through two panorama landscape paintings of the Mekong River. While Mekong Sunrise appears in blue, Mekong Sunset is depicted in red.

In the past, people who resided along the border of Thailand and Laos could easily cross over to the other country. The borders of Thailand today are the result of boundary agreements between Thailand and France, which was a major colonial power that invaded Laos during the 19th century. Some visitors may see only natural views in the paintings. However, the Mekong River symbolises this division.

"The border line may appear as a hypothetical concept to some people, but it holds significant power for local residents," said Vacharanont.

In terms of the creative process, the artist explained that he approached the paintings in the two rooms in different ways. Because of his initial feelings of stress, the paintings in the first room are more realistic whereas the paintings in the second room are less realistic and slightly more relaxed because he felt less stressed.

An oil painting on canvas, The Peace Monument depicts a monument in Nakhon Phanom which was one of the main bases for communists in Thailand.

The Peace Monument.

"The Peace Monument has a similar shape to the landmark Buddhist temple Wat Phra That Phanom. After Thailand emerged victorious over communism, figures and monuments were built as memorials in many provinces and The Peace Monument was one of them," Vacharanont said.

While driving in the mountains, Vacharanont began to gain an interest in the surroundings. At times, he felt that the mountains in front of him were getting bigger and surrounding him everywhere. It was a view that a mobile phone could not capture. His perspective on the mountains is expressed in the painting Rural Road.

Rural Road.

The painting Nabua depicts a group of trees shaped like a creature. What kind of creature it looks like depends on individual interpretation. Nabua is a location in Nakhon Phanom, where the Thai government fought against communist insurgency, and the artist did not miss the opportunity to explore the place.

"During the daytime, I felt safe due to the sunlight. After sunset, I no longer felt safe. As a stranger in Nabua, I felt like I was being watched. The painting Nabua reflected the emotions I experienced," explained Vacharanont.

From left, Nabua, Checkpoint and Full Moon.

Although the provinces which served as US Army bases experienced more economic growth than others, it was not for the benefit of the Thai people. Despite the presence of highways and some facilities in these provinces, there has been little ongoing development. According to the artist, if the concrete highways and electric poles are removed, the four provinces that connect through Phu Phan Mountain Range would appear no different than they did 50 years ago.

Although there are hidden meanings in his landscape paintings, Vacharanont does not expect visitors to explicitly grasp them.

"I hope that visitors will simply enjoy viewing my landscape paintings, which were inspired by my personal experiences at various locations. By immersing themselves in the artwork, visitors may develop an interest in some issues that captivated me," said Vacharanont.

"The Boundary Of Solitude" runs at SAC Gallery, Sukhumvit 39, until June 28. Admission is free. For more information, visit

Inside 'The Boundary Of Solitude'.

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