Art World: Thai woman wins prestigious art prize

Artist Pannaphan Yodmanee becomes second Thai to win prestigious Benesse Art Prize with her installation Aftermath.

ART

Art World: Thai woman win's Singapore's Benesse Prize

Pannaphan Yodmanee becomes the second Thai to win the Benesse Art Prize with her installation Aftermath
19/01/2017
Apipar Norapoompipat

This week Thai artist Pannaphan Yodmanee, 28, won the the 11th Benesse Art Prize for her art installation at the Singapore Art Museum.

Pannaphan's titanic work called Aftermath won the prize, beating out the other 62 artworks in the biennale.

She is the second Thai artist to have received this award, with Rirkit Tiravaniya winning the fifth Benesse Prize at Venice in 2003.

A view of the art installation in which everything can be seen.

THE WINNING ART INSTALLATION

The giant art installation Aftermath consists of an arrangement of ruins and pagodas scattered on the floor.

 A large section of the museum is devoted to Pannaphan's image of destruction and ruin.

Buddha images and pagodas she cast are scattered about on wrecked brick, rock and concrete slabs.

A large cracked and worn-out wall made from concrete sits behind the destruction.

On the wall are Thai-style murals reminiscent of temple paintings.

The murals depict an array of narratives like the mapping of the Buddhist cosmos collapsing, and the historic and violent history of Southeast Asia like the arrival of the immigrants and religious wars.

The set-up, with her trusty team of classmates, took a total time of three weeks, but preparations beforehand took six months.

Mural detail up close.

PROPHESIES OF THE FUTURE

With this scene of destruction, Pannaphan wants to depict the consequences of what globalisation and cultural misunderstandings could create.

It's essentially a morbid reminder to what can happen to a future world if humans continue to ignore their own misunderstandings.

John Tung, assistant curator of the Singapore Art Museum who helped push Pannaphan to where she is today, says her work is "a very beautiful way of delivering an important message that the world needs right now".

Mural detail. Foreign soldier shooting from behind a rock.

THE RELEVANCE OF RELIGION & FAITH IN OUR LIVES

The art installation also examines, like most of her past works, the relevance of faith and religion in our lives.

Her deep interest in religion, as she reveals, stems from the fact that "it's what the world runs on".

From building cultures and civilisations to the act of war, religion has been a prime motivator.

Ruins dominate the installation as a whole.

PEOPLE USE RELIGION TO HURT EACH OTHER

"I'm seeing that … the one thing that creates peace and happiness is religion," she said.

"But in the end, people use religion as a tool to hurt each other. It contrasts [with all of the scriptures]."

"Religion should make the world peaceful but it's the complete opposite."

"Religion isn't wrong, but humans pick up certain things to destroy each other, and humans still establish themselves as good."

Detail from a mural showing figures from western religion.

WHY CAN'T FIGURES OF THE BUDDHA BE USED IN ARTWORKS?

"I'm still asking this question today, if we Buddhists in Thailand only worship the figure of Buddha? Why aren't we allowed to use these figures in artworks? We can't do anything with them. I feel that they're untouchable."

"I think that my work is quite satirical and sensitive," she continues.

Ruins.

AFRAID OF SOME THAI VIEWERS

"I feel a bit worried, because I'm talking about religion. I'm not afraid of the foreign viewers. I'm afraid of the Thai viewers. There are organisations protecting Buddhism."

"There are people who go, 'Hey, how can you use religion like this?'."

"I'm preparing my mind for it. I've had negative feedback before. I'm not able to force them to like my work, so I just have to let go."

An earlier version of Aftermath is a piece called Prophecy, featuring slabs of ruins and little pagodas. It was shown at Bangkok Art and Culture Center as part of "Thailand Eye" exhibition in 2015.

Detail from mural looking as if it is a depiction of hell in ancient texts.

BIOGRAPHY OF ARTIST

The Nakhon Si Thammarat native and Silpakorn University graduate has been interested in art since childhood.

Growing older, she frequented a temple near her house, soaking in traditional Thai arts taught to her by an abbot who graduated from the Poh Chang College of Arts.

Pannaphan eventually learned how to master moulding, painting and even had the opportunity to paint large artworks in temple caves.

In Aftermath, you can see obvious links to her artistic training.

HISTORY OF THE PRIZE

For 10 iterations since 1995, the Benesse Prize was presented at the Venice Biennale to celebrate artists who embody an experimental and critical spirit in addition to a potential to develop a reflection around the theme of "well-being".

This is the first time that prize has come to Asia to collaborate with Singapore Art Museum, organiser of the Singapore Biennale 2016.

SINGAPORE VS. THAILAND'S ART WORLDS


Singapore, however, has been enthusiastic to play the role of a regional and international stage for artists. To Pannaphan, it has also provided her an insight to how a well-managed art industry can give struggling artists a path to go further.

"Over here they accept art in all forms, and they pull in many organisations to work together," she said. "I feel that if I go outside Thailand and I give it my all in the space that they give me, I'll have more opportunities to continue as an artist. I can't expect anything from Thailand as my works can only be put in museums, not galleries. There's no stage or opportunity.

"Thailand has a lot of quality artists, but we don't have good management. In the future I think it might be better. If every section helps each other and sees the importance of art more, we might be able to survive, or even be as equal to Singapore."

For the future, Pannaphan wants to continue creating art in all forms in order to continue examining her unanswered questions. Whether it be taking up ceramics, jewellery or even fashion, she's up for the task. But her next exhibition space, thanks to her win, will be at the Benesse Art Site Naoshima, Japan.

"I saw the space and I'm really excited," she said. "It looks raw and looks appropriate for my works, and it should be a challenge as well."

http://www.bangkokpost.com/lifestyle/art/1182869/in-her-art-religion-and-ruins

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Writer: Jon Fernquest
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