Thavibu Gallery | Contemporary Art from Thailand, Vietnam and Burma

Keynote Speech Delivered by Dr. Sheldon Shaeffer, Director UNESCO, Bangkok at the Opening Reception of aseanARToday Thailand & Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (4 June 2002)

I have the honour and pleasure to be here today for the opening of the art exhibition – aseanARToday Thailand & Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar.  The exhibition will be on display 4 – 28 June and is jointly organized by Thavibu Gallery and the ASEAN Art Associates. 

The exhibition in Thailand is one of several national shows which will be held prior to the regional exhibition which is scheduled to take place at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 21 October – 24 November 2002.  The ten participating Thai artists plus two from Cambodia, three from Laos and two from Myanmar are all well recognized for their quality works.

Thailand has a large number of artists, and the styles, media and subject matters chosen by Thai artists are among the most diverse in the region.  The country has a long and solid indigenous foundation for painting through traditional mural art in its temples, though artists now have gained new confidence and are willing to explore new ways of expression. 

Many Thai artists have moved away from dealing with rather simple, beautiful subjects to embrace the world of emotion.  Talented painters have been successful in expressing the emotions of depicted subjects through the use of colours and composition.  The emotions may relate to love and happiness, though most artists seem to prefer to focus on despair, loneliness, sadness and other problematic aspects of life. 

The exploration in contemporary Thai art of abstraction and the use of mixed media shows that the artists are not afraid of taking up new challenges.  Compared to many other countries in Asia, Thailand has one of the most dynamic art scenes producing some of the most cutting edge works of art.

There is fortunately a high degree of freedom of expression in Thailand, hence the censorship which plagues many other countries in the region does not limit what Thai artists can show.  This often leads to expression of issues related to social awareness and social criticism, which is a refreshing trend. 

The future for contemporary Thai painting seems bright.  Artists, education, inspiration and economic success - for the few perhaps – are in place.  The challenge is not to be complacent and rest on current success, but to continuously strive for new ways of expression.  

The contemporary art scene in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar is rather different from Thailand in many aspects.  Although the three countries share much of the same cultural heritage as Thailand, they have not enjoyed the same amount of freedom of expression and interaction with outside communities as Thailand has.   Freedom of expression and interaction with other communities is often seen as an advantage for artistic development.  The isolation the three countries has led to a focus on traditional values in their paintings.  Most contemporary visual art from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar hence depict village scenes, temples and situations relating to people’s daily lives. 

There is nothing wrong in featuring traditional subject matters in paintings, and some of the artists are very skilful.  However, it will be highly interesting to view the development of contemporary visual arts in these three countries after some time to see what direction it will take. 

About half the paintings which are on display in Bangkok will be shown in Kuala Lumpur together with works from other ASEAN countries.  A total of eighty leading artists will showcase their works at the National Art Gallery.  This will be a rare opportunity to view some of the best visual art produced in South East Asia today.  An art symposium is scheduled to take place for three days to coincide with the exhibition in Malaysia. 

The two exhibitions will hopefully contribute to an increased interest in and understanding of contemporary visual art among the peoples of Thailand and the other ASEAN countries.  It may also raise the awareness of contemporary Asian painting among the many foreigners who reside in Bangkok and the tourists who visit.  Visual art speaks a language which transcends borders and boundaries and appeal to peoples of all nationalities and groups. 

This exhibition is a result of collaboration between many partners, including the artists, Thavibu Gallery, and ASEAN Art Associates.  I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the artists who have created the high quality works which we see here today.  I would also like to thank the organizers of this exhibition, Thavibu Gallery represented by Jørn Middelborg and ASEAN Art Associates represented by Jaffee Yee Yeow-fei.  The exhibition would not have been possible without their dedicated efforts. 



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