Artist raises awareness of microplastic pollution through art
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Artist raises awareness of microplastic pollution through art

Pratchaya Charernsook, an award-winning artist, highlights the issue of microplastic pollution in her thought-provoking artworks, inspiring viewers to reflect on their environmental impact

SOCIAL & LIFESTYLE
Artist raises awareness of microplastic pollution through art

Pratchaya Charernsook, a young artist, driven by her concern for microplastic pollution, has been using microplastics as a major material in her artwork since 2019. Her latest mixed media and microplastic artwork, Chumphon Estuary, depicts a bird's-eye view of the Chumphon Estuary, allowing viewers to observe the interconnection in the area and the river's passage into the ocean. The artwork was created using bits of plastic pieces that she collected from the Chumphon Estuary's and nearby areas.

"Pak Nam is an estuary that connects canals and rivers to the sea. Viewers do not necessarily need to know that the artwork was based on the location of Chumphon Estuary. I want to emphasise connections between rivers, oceans and communities. At Chumphon Estuary, I discovered various large pieces of trash such as lighters, plastic bottles, glass bottles and Styrofoam containers. Therefore, I aim for viewers to be aware of the connections between people, natural sites and environment as well as the problem of microplastic pollution," said Pratchaya.

With elaborate techniques and thought-provoking messages, Chumphon Estuary won top regional award of 2023 UOB Painting of the Year – UOB Southeast Asian Painting of the Year which was presented in Singapore, over country winners from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

"I was thrilled to receive this award. I did not expect to win the UOB Southeast Asian Panting of the Year. Receiving this award proves that the problem of microplastic pollution that I am trying to raise awareness about is a global issue. The UOB POY Awards will relay the message to communicate to wider audience since they elevate winning  artists to the public eye, attract media coverage, and promote awareness of the microplastic issue on a regional scale.

Both international and local audiences seem to be interested in microplastic pollution and my artworks," commented the artist.

Tan Choon Hin, president and chief executive officer of UOB Thailand, commented that, "Pratchaya's winning artwork is an evocative and thought-provoking piece that conveys the magnitude and proximity of the microplastics problem. The devastation depicted, made more poignant by the actual pieces of microplastics used, highlights the need and urgency for environmental sustainability to take root in the region."

Back in 2019, Pratchaya became aware of microplastic pollution after finding of researchers at the Marine National Park Operation Centre revealed an average of 78 pieces of microplastics present in the stomach of every mackerel collected from Hat Chao Mai National Park. That news inspired her to create artwork from trash.

At the beginning, she visited Sairee beach in her hometown, Chumphon, where she was stunned to see large piles of trash on the beaches. She decided to collect and transform trash that she found, such as toothbrushes, plastic bottles and Styrofoam containers, to be art pieces. After that, she shifted to crafting her artworks using microplastic. For Chumphon Estuary, the artist used microplastic pieces of about 5 by 5 millimetres to create the bird's eye view image of Chumphon Estuary.    

In 2022, Pratchaya won the gold award from the UOB Painting of the Year for Sairee Beach 5 which depicts microplastic pieces on canvas. From that point on, art collectors started showing interest in her artworks. While Sairee Beach 5 was appreciated by judges and many art enthusiasts, it received a few negative comments from the social media.

The positive feedback lifted her spirits. She was happy to see compliments from viewers who understood her microplastic art. One viewer praised her work for being thoughtful and up to date. Another viewer commented that Sairee Beach 5 encouraged her to realise that people should not destroy the environment.

Because of Pratchaya's unwavering belief in crafting microplastic art, she continues creating many artworks using microplastic. Her solo exhibitions in 2023, including "Sairee Beach" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre and "Mapping Human Journey Art Exhibition" at Art4C, showcase her commitment to this cause. Her artwork, ChaoPraYa (River) Samuthra (Ocean), which was created for the event "Think Throw…Life" which raises awareness of waste sorting, was on display at MBK.

After using microplastic materials found in her hometown to create many works of art, the artist decided that for her future work, she will use trash found in Bangkok.

"Oceans are the final destination of trash, so I decided to broaden my scope beyond beaches. I have conducted surveys and collected trash in urban areas such as Yaowarat, Sampheng and Phahurat Market. In Yaowarat, I discovered rubber bands and logo stickers used for attaching on fruit products. During my visit to Singapore, I also collected trash. I will later compare similarities and differences between these types of trashes and explore what they tell us about each area," she explained.   

Asked if it is possible for art to help enhance environmental sustainability, the award-winning artist responded that her work aims to inform the public about microplastic pollution.

"I believe my artwork is like news, informing people about microplastic pollution. This kind of information is usually presented in the form of news reports and research, but I use aesthetics to grab people's interest in my work and thus, become aware of plastic pollution. However, whether they change their behaviour or not, depends on them. I cannot force them. I hope that those who view my artworks will improve their waste sorting habits and start to reuse plastic items," concluded Pratchaya.      

"2023 UOB Painting of the Year (Thailand) Winners' Showcase" runs at UOB Plaza Bangkok, 1st floor until Jan 5, 2024. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.uob.co.th/uobandart.


Microplastics: A Global Threat to Our Health and Environment

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles which are less than five millimetres in length. They are the result of manufacturing products such as cosmetics, clothing and textiles and also come from the breakdown of larger plastics. While they may seem small and harmless, they cause a lot of damage to both the environment and our health.

Because their particles are tiny, microplastics are found everywhere. A recent study reported the discovery of microplastics in snow samples collected from an area close to the peak of Mount Everest. This shows that microplastic pollution can be found practically everywhere in the world, even in the most remote place.

In Thailand, the research,  "Microplastics on Sediment Beaches in Thailand" conducted in 2020 by the Faculty of Environment of Kasetsart University, Campus Kamphaeng Saen, revealed that the quantity of microplastics on ‘sediment beaches' ranged from 0.000002 to 1.98 pieces per gram. 

The study discovered that most microplastics were in the form of fibres, followed by films and particles which aligns with research in other countries. Most microplastic fibres are derived from clothing, microplastic films from packaging, and microplastic fragments from broken plastic pieces.

Additionally, the study found that beaches which are bustling tourist spots, and the location of ports and industrial factories, have higher levels of microplastics than quiet beaches with few activities.

Several studies of microplastic effects have reported potential harm to humans, including the risk of body inflammation, cell damage and certain types of cancer. 

However, further research regarding the long-term health effects of microplastics on people is still needed for solid evidence.

Minimising exposure to microplastics involves a multifaceted approach that includes changing personal habits (like avoiding single-use plastics and using reusable bags) and supporting broader environmental policies. These actions are interconnected in addressing the issue of plastic pollution and its byproduct, microplastics, thereby protecting both human health and the environment.


This article is part of a 20-part series that explores what it takes to create and secure a sustainable future. In collaboration with UOB. You can view the whole series here.

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