A celebration of culture
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A celebration of culture

Khon Kaen hosts Isan festival of art, music and culinary delights

The 'Molam Music Experience' exhibition.
The 'Molam Music Experience' exhibition.

As Isan Creative Festival returns to Khon Kaen for a fourth edition, a group of molam artists have gathered to provide joy and talented creators are enticing foodies with mouth-watering appetisers and beverages prepared from pla ra (fermented fish) and rice.

Until Sunday, the neighbourhoods of Kang Sadan and Sri Chan will be the main entertainment venues to boost economic opportunities in the northeastern region. Designed around the theme "Proud Of Isan", more than 200 programmes highlight the splendour of Isan culture and art scene for residents and tourists to enjoy.

Khon Kaen University has become an imaginative playground for music enthusiasts to express their passion in the "Molam Music Experience" exhibition. It's a collaboration between the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts and Epson (Thailand) to transform the Gallery Room into a mini theatre where visitors can cosplay as budding music producers or molam stars.

This interactive exhibition illustrates the evolution of molam when villagers began to write poems and music to recount their life stories along the Mekong River. Based on Isan beliefs, a group of spiritualists performed to heal sick people before molam became popular in the entertainment industry. During the Covid-19 outbreak, molam artists learned how to use digital platforms, allowing audiences to enjoy their live performances on smartphones.

The 'Molam Music Experience' exhibition.

'Isan Pop: I'm Not A Sculpture Eco Dan Kwian Pottery' by PeckPeck Studio.

There are four discernible molam musical genres: molam sing, lam toey, lam phi fah and lam ploen. Visitors can choose from a variety of vinyl records on the interactive wall as well as local instruments such as a keyboard, guitar, drum or phin to create their own tunes. After that, visitors can perform on stage and show off singing abilities as people are free to place mats on the ground and settle down to listen to music.

Situated on the first floor of TCDC Khon Kaen, Isan Zaap Bar invites visitors to discover the culinary scene in the Northeast, which combines ancestral recipes with cutting-edge technology to produce premium ingredients at a time when people have become more health-conscious.

Every day, a collective of food designers will lead four sessions of the "Eat Well, Enjoy Life" workshop at a red bar counter with each round limited to five participants. In celebration of alluring Isan flavours, guests can take on the role of culinary connoisseurs and experience dishes that include preserved radish from Saran Bee which helps with detoxification and provides biotics to maintain digestive health.

Additionally, there's also mulberry pop rice available in two flavours, pla ra-caramel and salt-Indian borage leaves, that helps prevent heart disease and ischemic stroke, and omega-3-rich smoked catfish sandwiches whose rice-based bread has a chewy yet tender texture, making it ideal for people with gluten allergy.

The Shape Of Life by Koon Studio.

To pair with light fare, the bar serves a selection of freshly crafted cocktails and mocktails such as Laquiri, blended with tomato juice and pla ra, Mulberry Salted, made from mulberry and rice, Fresh Feel from Isan herbs, and Chaniti from the mulberry leaf tea.

On the 2nd floor, the library has been transformed into a platform for 20 exceptional artists and designers from different northeastern provinces to showcase their talent in the "Isan Showcase 2024" exhibition. Focusing on sustainability, the exhibition demonstrates modern takes on indigenous wisdom, identities and beliefs in the Isan region, allowing the next generation to connect with their cultural heritage.

One up-and-coming talent is Khon Kaen-based artist Chakkit Wongchum with his Flowers ceramic sculptures evoking the cheerful nature of Isan people. Trimmed with colourful blossoms, his work takes inspiration from Boon Hae Dok Mai (the Flower Procession Festival) that takes place during Songkran as well as mythical creatures like the naga, mom (a hybrid of a dog, tiger, singh and cat) and hera (a mixture of a naga and crocodile).

Khon Kaen-based Koon Studio portrays the life of waterside communities around the Mekong River through the striking installation The Shape Of Life. This work is a harmonious blend of aesthetics, traditional craftsmanship and modern technology.

Architect Thiradet Athichasakolchai with his Lonely Boy character.

Using cutting-edge 3D printing techniques, it features 30 pottery mobiles designed to resemble fishing nets to evoke the rhythm of life. The tactile surface, patterns and marks created during the moulding process accentuate the natural beauty of local clay.

Artist Terarit Chaiyajan from Nakhon Ratchasima has worked with mulberry farming communities to create a series of colourful Muan Lai Mai Dud sculptures. His "bonsai trees" are fashioned out of leftover silk, wire and dead tamarind trees to symbolise Isan people who are known for their ability to adapt and never lose their joyful personalities no matter where they are.

PeckPeck Studio from Nakhon Ratchasima combines pop culture and local wisdom in "Isan Pop: I'm Not A Sculpture Eco Dan Kwian Pottery". In an effort to raise awareness about energy efficiency and waste reduction in the pottery industry, the studio has resurrected broken pottery from the production process and turned it into fascinating artworks that mirror fast fashion trends and modern living.

Meanwhile, Thonnawan Museum of Art & Dress from Buri Ram demonstrates the impact of marine debris on aquatic life through the fashionable Mermaid Drowned collection. Inspired by the hit song Lam Matcha Hinoki, this project has integrated traditional Thai silk ikat weaving techniques with recycled plastic fibres to produce distinctive and meaningful apparel.

Thiradet Athichasakolchai's drawings.

After leaving Khon Kaen University, Lonely Boy Cafe is a great place for anyone looking for something light during the day. Located on Adunyaram Road, visitors can enjoy a wide range of fine coffee, matcha and pastries while admiring eye-catching artworks of five new-wave artists in the "Art Of A (Loneliness)" exhibition.

The idea is to inspire people to investigate loneliness. The entrance features a large, printed Lonely Boy mascot, and a wall displays multiple drawings of people from various professions who reside in the bustling residential and commercial neighbourhood of Kangsadan.

"Inspired by a popular phrase, single by choice, my concept 'Lonely By Choice' stands for anyone who would rather live alone than compromise their identity in order to blend in with others. It is normal to experience loneliness even when surrounded by lots of people. All we have to do is learn to accept it," said architect Thiradet Athichasakolchai.

Outside, a shady courtyard doubles as a playground, with animal-like sculptures by artist Waadnong chasing a gang of mice hidden behind artist Turry Hardz's Door To Solitude. A few steps away, the Think Boy sculpture by Avegee Illusion chooses to avoid the crowds so that no one may take his detachable heart.

Waadnong's cat-like sculpture and Turry Hardz's Door To Solitude.

Those seeking souvenirs may stop at the Columbo Craft Village artisan market. A collection of handcrafted fashion accessories and keychains made from different kinds of colourful stones and cartoon-like knitted ornaments are selling like hotcakes.

Back in 2016, veteran musician Pichit Chaisit and his friends constructed a studio where homegrown artists could work together and share ideas to develop their work while aficionados could observe their creations.

Currently, it houses 14 creative members who have run a bookstore, fashion boutiques, ceramic shops, lifestyle stores and slow bar cafes. This Saturday, the village will showcase the growth of the northeastern art scene with a range of music performances and talks by veteran artists from different fields.

Travel info

The Isan Creative Festival is running in Khon Kaen until July 7. It's open daily from 11am to 9pm. Visit isancreativefestival.com.

The Think Boy sculpture by Avegee Illusion.

The Mermaid Drowned collection by Thonnawan Museum of Art & Dress.

Flowers by Chakkit Wongchum.

The Columbo Craft Village.

Isan Zaap bar. Pattarawadee Saengmanee

Waadnong's cat-like sculpture and Turry Hardz's Door To Solitude.

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