Navigating identity
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Navigating identity

Artist Channatip Chanvipava explores themes of belonging and memory at the Venice Biennale

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Navigating identity
Scrabble On Sunday.

It is a rare and remarkable achievement for artists to exhibit at the Venice Biennale, one of the most prestigious art exhibitions in the world. This year, Thai artist Channatip Chanvipava showcases his solo exhibition “Sound Of Many Waters” featuring eight new paintings that presents the idea of fixed identities, belonging and subjective memory. The exhibition takes place at a 17th century Venetian dimora, open to the public for the first time.

Presented by Roman Road, “Sound Of Many Waters” aligns with this year’s Biennale theme “Foreigners Everywhere”. Marisa Bellani, the curator, uses water as a powerful reference to address the concepts of queer identity and connection in a divided world.

Channatip shared his excitement about the exhibition at the 60th edition of the Venice Biennale with Life in an email interview.

“I am thrilled. The Venice Biennale is an important centre of contemporary visual arts. Being invited to exhibit is a challenge and rewarding. Marisa Bellani from Roman Road saw a connection between my work and the Biennale’s theme ‘Stranieri Ovunque’ [Foreigners Everywhere], which is why she invited me.”

In addition to paintings, Channatip also created a site-specific installation for the exhibition.

“The context in which my paintings are seen is crucial to me,” he explained. “I tried to extend beyond brush strokes and create a continuation of my works for the viewer. The paintings are attached to installations made of metal, allowing the viewer to immerse in reflections. The installation also explores the movement of body and eye around each painting.”

Born in Bangkok to an interfaith family, Channatip attended an international school from a young age to prepare him for further studies in the UK. His fascination with art began early, initially taking inspiration from the Impressionists, particularly, Monet. However, his family did not support his interest in art and did not allow him to pursue this field.

Channatip, a self-taught painter currently based in London, embarked on his journey after earning a degree in economics. 

Thai artist Channatip Chanvipava. (Photos courtesy of Deniz Guzel)

Triumph Of Life.

Since your father is Chinese-Thai and your mother is Chinese-Malaysian, how does your Chinese heritage play a role in your work?

I am a narrative painter, drawing on memory that has been encoded through identity. My Chinese heritage is part of my identity and therefore plays an important role in my personal experiences and how I memorialise them. My family and cultural history have helped shape who I am through experiences of Thai culture and Chinese diasporic migration.

Why did you choose to pursue economics for your degree, and when did you realise that it wasn’t the career you wanted to pursue?

I pursued a degree in economics due to my analytical mind, proficiency in mathematics and a determination to succeed in finance. After graduation, the urge to create grew, calling me to return to art. I see painting as something inescapable, an unbounded instinct which allows me to process emotions and life experiences.

What inspired you to take up painting seriously?

To me, painting is an honest practice which I have always taken seriously. However, it wasn’t until I took up painting again as an adult that I considered becoming a full-time artist. I was struggling to focus on my work and was caught up in the urge to paint.

During the pandemic, I had to go through several three-week quarantine periods during which I developed a desire to live a life with meaning. This gave me new hope and focus, and I was determined to fully dedicate myself to my art. Nevertheless, it took time, deep consideration and many paintings before I was able to recognise myself as an artist.

As a self-taught artist, how would you say you have improved your painting skills?

My painting skills have been developed with time, repetition and the lessons I received as a child and teenager. My skills are rooted in my practice, and I also learned a lot from seeing paintings in museums and trying to recreate the same visual techniques. Most importantly, I allowed my imagination, intuition and surroundings to guide my painting and inform my practice.

What made you decide to paint abstract art?

My process guides what I paint. My works are explicitly autobiographical and profoundly self-referential. Each work is rooted in the internal workings of my personal universe of real observations, stories and subjective experiences. My canvas is the container of personal memories. Each work is the product of long and restorative meditations on times past, working and reworking captured moments. These manifest themselves as abstract compositions in my mind before they appear materially in paint.

How did you interpret the Biennale theme ‘Foreigners Everywhere’ and turn it into your exhibition ‘The Sound Of Many Waters’? And why did you want to express queer identity?

The theme ‘Foreigners Everywhere’ draws out the role of the queer artist, the outsider, the self-taught artist, and the artist from the Global South, all of which speaks directly to me. My paintings use abstraction in combination with figurative elements to capture elements of my identity and my experiences as a queer artist.

For ‘The Sound Of Many Waters’, I wanted to focus on the concept of queer time, which manifests differently for different people. For example, I experienced adolescence twice. The first time, I suppressed my queer identity and I later experienced a second adolescence when I came out as queer and learned to embrace a new version of myself while reclaiming past experiences. Many LGBTI people have a nonlinear relationship to time, rejecting chrononormativity in a way that affects queer relationships, notions of success, and perceptions of the past and future.

Fantasy Room.

Could you explain the concept of 'The Sound Of Many Waters' and how did you express the concept through your paintings?

‘The Sound Of Many Waters’ uses water as a powerful reference to address the concept of identity in a divided world. Water is formless and adaptable, a symbol for both connection and division. I was also interested in the power of reflection and the idea of seeing an image mirrored in the surface of a body of water, which I see as analogous to my painting process. My paintings contain reservoirs of archived memories, reflecting mental imagery that pools on the surface of the canvas. The way sound moves in water is like how emotion is carried within memory.

Lovers At First Sight.

Can you explain the idea behind a painting from 'The Sound Of Many Waters'?

Triumph Of Life (2023) is inspired by, and serves as an antithesis to, Il Trionfo Della Morte (The Triumph Of Death), a 15th century fresco in Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo, Italy. The fresco, which I visited before my wedding, depicts death riding a skeletal horse. In response, I was compelled to paint a work that espoused peace and humanity, and I also wanted to conceive a painting to celebrate my marriage and the development of LGBTI rights. In response to The Triumph Of Death, my painting Triumph Of Life depicts a personified image of life riding a horse which is jumping over a hurdle, representing humanity in motion and the urge to overcome the barriers of conflict.

What are your expectations for 'The Sound Of Many Waters' at the Venice Biennale?

I hope viewers are able to reflect upon seeing and feeling the paintings within the installation. More importantly, I would like the show to be a confirmatory experience as an artist who is self-taught, queer and from the Global South.


'The Sound Of Many Waters' is at the Venice Biennale in Italy until May 27. For more information, visit instagram.com/romanroad.

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