Intricacy – Thai Art by NUS Students

The Department of Southeast Asian Studies is proud to present ‘Intricacy‘, a Thai Art exhibition by students of module SE3224 Thai Drawing and Painting.

The exhibition will be held at the NUS Central Library from 9 to 14 September 2015. It is located outside the library restricted area and is open to all.

For directions to NUS Central Library, please go to NUS Campus map: http://goo.gl/JkgA81

Intricacy Thai Art Exhibition 9-14 Sept 2015

Buddhist values brought to life, artistically; Murals are anthropologist’s labour of love at temple

Saturday 29 November 2014, The Straits Times.

INSIDE Uttamayanmuni Temple in Choa Chu Kang, the biggest of six Thai buddhist temples in Singaproe, one man has quietly taken on a project that could span decades.

Associate professor Irving Johnson of the National University of Singapore Southeast Asian studies is spending most of the school break at the temple’s main shrine, filling its white panels with scenes from religious texts.

It is a dream come true for the 42-year-old Singaporean who worshipped at the temple as a child with his Thai Buddhist mother.

He had spent many an afternoon dreaming about painting the walls to resemble the elaborate murals that adorn the walls of its majestic counterparts in Bangkok.

“I’ve been trapped in a cycle of work year-to-year. I’m finally fulfilling my dream. There is an intense feeling of satisfaction in seeing colour and stories light up plain cement,” he said.

Dr Johnson, who started on the murals in 2012, estimated that it would take 30 years to transform the shrine’s 30 or so panels into a rich tapestry of paintings.

Each panel has more than a hundred hand-painted characters, each about the size of a tea cup. It is so detailed the sarongs of the upper-class female characters are painted with different patterns.

Such a massive undertaking usually requires a team of 20 skilled Thai artists to complete over a decade.

Dr Johnson has completed two stories from the past lives of Buddha, including the story of the determined prince Mahachanok, who is saved from a shipwreck by the goddess of the ocean.

The temple could do with an artistic addition, said Abbot Phrakhru Udom Dhammavithes. “Eventually Singaporeans won’t have to fly to Thailand to enjoy Thai Buddhist art… it will be right in our own backyard,” he said, adding that the murals help convey Buddhist values.

Built in 1963, in a relatively quiet neighbourhood in Hong San Terrace, the temple receives about 5,000 visitors on occasions like Vesak Day.

Dr Johnson, an anthropologist who did O- and A-level art, gets help sometimes from students, worshippers and his mother. They fill in the acrylic base layer of each painting.

The self-taught classical Thai artist then adds in tones, secondary colours and other details such as gold leafing. He has also weaved in modern references: A scene depicted heaven and hell shows Nazi leader Adolf Hitler crushed under a boiling pot of oil.

While his eyesight has worsened since he started painting, Dr Johnson said:

“It’s not about me. It’s about leaving behind a legacy and making the temple even more traditional while enlivening its walls to befit its status as a social gathering place for the Thai and Singapore community.”

By Melody Zaccheus for The Straits Timesmelodyz@sph.com.sg 

View the original article.

Wijit: Thai Art by Leong Chao Yang (Year 2 student, Southeast Asian Studies major)

Read about Chao Yang’s experience in learning about Thai Art through our module SE3224 and putting up an art exhibition showcasing artworks by some students from the AY2012/2013 class of SE3224.

As a painter, I have always regarded the artist’s canvas as an avenue for subtle creative expression. In the didactic world of traditional Thai art, however, I found that it was not so much about the artist’s individual achievements or artistic originality. Rather, the paintings serve as powerful visual illustrations for monks to propagate the teachings of Buddha to devotees.. I learnt about this during a one-week field trip to Bangkok along with my classmates as part of the “SE3224: Thai Drawing and Painting” course last semester.

The module, which was taught by Dr Irving Johnson from the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, brought me face-to-face with some of the most exquisite works of Thai art in Buddhist temples across Central Thailand, from Buddhaisawan Chapel to Wat Khongkharam. The highly subsidised field trip was a memorable experience where we had a chance to take a well-deserved break in the middle of a hectic semester and take drawing classes at the Pok Chang College of Fine Arts.

Enrolled in possibly the first Thai art class outside its country of origin, I found myself drawing and spilling ink over hundreds of elaborate patterns every week. This ultimately resulted in my final project, a portrait of Phra Wessuwan, a guardian god in the Thai Buddhist cosmology. I still remember having fun shopping for art materials and painting with my classmates.

Under Dr Johnson’s guidance, we put up Wijit: Thai Art by NUS Students, an exhibition which showcased some of these final-year projects at the NUS Central Library from 7 to 16 August 2012. Planning the exhibition was a great learning experience, given the unconventional gallery space and limited time and resources. In spite of the challenges, the exhibition went well and we were all smiles after the setup as we viewed our glistering gold-leafed works standing proudly on their easels.

Students from the SE3224 course on a field trip to Buddhaisawan Chapel, Bangkok, in February 2012.

My final art project Phra Wessuwan displayed at the exhibition.

The exhibition, Wijit: Thai Art by NUS Students, was held from 7 to 16 August at NUS Central Library.

Wijit: Thai Art by NUS Students

This is the first time a traditional Thai art class (painting/drawing/composition/history) is being taught outside Thailand. For one week during the semester recess in 2011 and 2012, students enrolled in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies class SE3224: Thai Drawing and Painting spent hours copying and experiencing traditional Thai art in Bangkok’s finest temples. As part of their immersion into the little known world of Thai art, all students were tasked to produce an art piece as part of their final assignment for the class. The pieces displayed in this exhibition represent some of these projects. The works range from intricate gold and black lacquered-style creations to complex scenes from Buddhist literature and the Hindu epics.

Official opening by Ms Phasporn Sangasubana, Charge d’Affaires a.i., and Ms Ponpat Thitthongkham, Second Secretary of the Royal Thai Embassy, Singapore at 10am, Tuesday 7th August 2012. All are welcome.