Thai Art by NUS Students

Second year undergraduate Leong Chao Yang posing with his portrait of Phra Wesuwan, a guardian god in Thai Buddhist cosmology

From now till 16 August, you will be able to see the works of traditional Thai art by NUS students on display at the Central Library.

Aptly entitled “Wijit”—which means “exquisite” in Thai, the exhibition showcases some of the projects produced by the students enrolled in SE3224: Thai Drawing and Painting. The pieces range from intricate gold and black lacquered-style creations to complex scenes from Buddhist literature and Hindu epics.

Possibly the first time a traditional Thai art class is being taught outside Thailand, SE3224 is an undergraduate class offered by the Department of Southeast Asian Studies that teaches students not only the history and cultural meanings of Thai classical art, but also the practice of its artistic production.

Conducted twice in 2011 and 2012, the class taught students how to appreciate the various genres of Thai art (sculpting, architecture, lacquerwork, wood carving and mural painting) and how to draw the complex patterns and forms that make up the core of Thai traditional art heavily influenced by Indian, Chinese and Khmer sources. As the class was only one semester long, the students were only taught the preliminaries of Thai art focusing on the Central Thai style of the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century.

Dr Irving Johnson with Ms Phasporn Sangasubana, Charge d’Affaires a.i. of the Royal Thai Embassy (centre) and Associate Professor Goh Beng Lan, Head of Southeast Asian Studies Department (right)

In addition, during their semester recess the students were brought on a weeklong fieldtrip to Bangkok and Petchburi to experience Thai art in the palaces and temples. They also visited sites of artistic production, including the Royal Craftsmen Academy (chang sib mu) and the Pok Chang College of Fine Arts, where they mingled with Thai art students and professors and received a first-hand approach to learning Thai art as artists.

As part of their immersion into the world of Thai art, all students were tasked to produce an art piece as part of their final assignment for the class. Many hours were spent copying mural and decorative patterns at two of Bangkok’s most beautiful temples – the Buddhaisawan Chapel and Wat Suwannaram. The pieces displayed in this exhibition represent some of these projects.

On 7 August, the exhibition had an informal opening graced by Ms Phasporn Sangasubana, Charge d’Affaires a.i. of the Royal Thai Embassy, who was very impressed with the talents of the students.

“I guess this is an ongoing project and the Embassy will be very supportive if [NUS] needs any assistance from us,” Ms Sangasubana said.

Dr Irving Johnson giving an introduction on Thai art.

“For students who have no art background and have never seen Thai art to produce something like this is very impressive,” said Dr Irving Johnson, who teaches the class. He hopes visitors will take their time to experience the exhibition.

“The way to appreciate Thai art is to just look at it. Just stare at it and explore the intricacies of the patterns,“ he said.

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