Angkrits stands in his studio with a sculpture of his head.
In 2016 I spent the month of December traveling and working with another performance artist in Thailand. It was there that I met Angkrit Ajchariyasophon, a man who uses his deep-seeded fear of disappearing as a motive to create. I didn’t know he was an artist when we met. I was introduced to him as the owner of Angkrit Gallery in Chiang Rai, Thailand. I would soon see that this gallery is a central gathering place for the community of artists in the north of Thailand.
Angkrit Gallery is on one of the main roads out of Chiang Rai, which is Thailand’s northern-most large city. Angkrit started his gallery in 2008 with a show for friend and poet, Uten Mahamid. He tells me this first show came from his frustration that a talented artist’s work was unknown because Uten was uninterested to pursue the complicated art scene in Bangkok. This has been Angkrit’s model since: to show undiscovered work that stands in opposition to the commercial aspect of the Thai Art world.
The recent opening of Un-masked at Angkrit Gallery was a show of collaborative work between Vichai Chinalai and Thaiwijit Puengkasemsomboon.
Angkrit Gallery has an upstairs room that overlooks the countryside of Chiang Rai.
The Gallery is connected to a restaurant that Angkrit also runs, which means excellent food at the reception.
Angkrit curated Chiang Mai Now! at the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center in 2011. This unique exhibition showed the work of twelve cultural practitioners in the city of Chiang Mai. The people he chose to show were not artists in a traditional sense, but people that were organizing groups in Chiang Mai to consider and create positive change. As Angkrit tells me, it was the philosophy of these people that he wanted to show. To present the idea that art goes beyond aesthetic into interaction and that it can make change. Chiang Mai is a quickly growing city and a hot tourist destination. Through spiritual art spaces, a movie group and a bicycle club these people work to preserve the human-to-human interactions of the city. When the show went up at BACC the leader of the Sunday cycling club rode his bike from Chiang Mai to Bangkok (440 miles) for the opening!
Similar connections between the politics of living and art inspire Angkrit’s own work. While Angkrit curates untraditional modes of art, his own practice is primarily in paint. In Angkrit’s studio I saw again and again how unorthodox thought that resists the status quo mandates the actions that produce his art. There is a story behind each piece.
In consideration of the Buddhist monk’s lifestyle in Thailand Angkrit made a series of line paintings. I sense resentment towards their practice in his country as he describes them as “young strong men whose work is to observe their mind.” He calls an unfairness in that ‘we’ have to feed them while they search for enlightenment. In reaction Angkrit decided to observe his mind through painting and embarked on a series of line paintings that were inspired from the walking meditation of the monks. Through the slow back and forth of these lines he tells me he attempted to do as they do, to “know all moments.”
Angkrit shows me his private drawings. They work with language and are iterations of processing his thoughts. This is a sketch of an idea he had for a place called the ‘Open Institute of Living and Dying.’
In 2014 Angkrit made a series of 112 red flag paintings in reaction to Thailand’s Article 112. These lese-majeste laws forbade criticism or defamation of the royal family. Angkrit believed the people’s freedom to express them selves had been taken away. He was upset that the people of his country accepted this. In an ironic reality the laws made it difficult to protest their passing, and this was thus his silent form of protest.
Angkrit sees red as a form of destruction, and many of the red paintings he did by covering older works in red. On the left is a portrait of his mother.
The fear of ceasing to exist is a primary reason Angkrit makes art. He continues to paint so that he has a personal timeline to prove his existence. If he makes a mark he is still here. A few years ago he began considering the back of his canvases—the unintentional marks and the paint that soaks through them. Why should one mark be elevated above another simply due to intention? The suggestion of a painting created without intended statement fascinated him, and Angkrit began turning all his paintings around.
Two painting that have been stretched to show their reverse.
Angkrit considers the back of another painting.
Angkrit talks of disappearance in a philosophical way, but this is connected to a physical and intellectual ability to vanish. Now in America we are grappling with the reality of citizen’s disappearing through deportation and the human rights that we have fought for vanishing. As I feel the freedoms of my country being taken away I come to understand the need to ensure my own existence and voice. Angkrit does this in his studio.
Angkrit made a series of sculptures with his head on them ten years ago. He tells me this was at his height of fear that he would disappear.
Angkrit has formed a practice that uses creative action to react to social injustice. As an artist he lets idiosyncratic ideas that challenge the political norm determine the marks he makes. And as a curator he demonstrates how actions that lead to social change can be considered art. His work on both these fronts is all too relevant today as the liberal ideals of our own country are being taken from us. At a time when many of us are overcome with anger, frustration, disbelief and sorrow it is deeply inspiring to see how an artist has navigated these feelings to create art.
A rainbow at night, which will never exist.
By: Lara Salmon