BANGKOK – With more than 130 contemporary artworks reflecting gender diversity and related issues, the Bangkok Art and Culture Center has launched the second edition of the largest LGBTQ exhibition in Asia, bringing together 58 artists from across the region.
Aiming to encourage dialog on gender and diversity, “Spectrosynthesis II – Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia” arrived in the Thai capital after success in Taiwan two years ago.
Promoting tolerance and equality in the workplace, advancements toward legal protection against discrimination, and obtaining equal rights for same-sex couples are some of the event’s main goals.
Nearly 6,000 visitors have attended the exhibition since it opened earlier in the week, Chatvichai Promadhattavedi, head of the curatorial team, told EFE.
“This exhibition is the start of an open dialog. It touches on the lives of people in communities in Southeast Asia, with its complex aggregation of cultures – its own as well as those that have come from India, China and the West,” he said.
The two-level display features photography, painting, video, installation and textile works.
Outstanding artists include Arin Rungjang from Thailand; Sunil Gupta and Balbir Krishan from India; Anne Samat from Malaysia, as well as major works of Maitree Siriboon from Thailand; and David Medalla from the Philippines, among others.
Arin Rungjang, an artist who represented Thailand in the 55th Venice Biennale, created a five-channel video installation entitled “Welcome to My World, Tee” (2019).
His work was based on his adolescent experience of knowing a transgender woman nicknamed “Tee” (Thai slang for an ethnic Chinese boy) whom he described as “the most beautiful woman I had ever seen” and who later committed suicide.
“People might see the LGBTQ community as something to laugh at, but I want attendees to see some of those issues broader, such as prostitution, poverty and immigration that some of them have encountered,” the artist told EFE.
Maitree Siriboon, who created “Isan Boy Soi 4 No. 3,” depicting two elderly Western men as angels with a northeastern boy draped across their laps, told EFE that his artworks were inspired by his observations and experiences amid the gay nightlife of Bangkok’s Soi 4 in Silom area.
“I would like to reflect the reality of Thai society and highlight the diversity of genders. Being gay is not just working as a designer or a teacher, but also that kind of work, so I would like people to accept and respect what’s really happening,” said Maitree.
Sunil Gupta, who identifies as a HIV-positive Indian man, presented his photo series entitled “The New Pre-Raphaelities” (2008) which borrows the style of Victorian-era pre-Raphaelite painters into romantically gay moments.
His series points to injustice in India from the British imperial penal code, which criminalized homosexual acts, while compatriot Balbir Krishan displays two paintings depicting the differences before and after the repeal of section 377 of the penal code.
“A Stitch In Time” is an installation created by David Medalla inspired by his personal memory of a chance encounter with a handkerchief that connected him to a stranger and a former lover.
The work entails the audience sewing small objects on a large cloth in a public space, requiring both creative concentration and commitment to his masterpiece.
Patrick Sun, executive director of Sunpride Foundation – which set up the exhibition that will run through March 1 – said the event would “create a rippling effect on other Asian societies in terms of values, ideas and thoughts on the issues of gender diversity and contribute to the promotion of equal rights across all communities worldwide.”
He pointed to problems that Asia’s LGBTQ community faces, including that many countries still punish homosexual acts with imprisonment to the death penalty.
“Although Thailand is much more tolerant in its attitude towards gay people, there are still deep-rooted discrimination issues that need to be addressed,” he added.
Thailand has no discrimination law against LGBTQ people and has always been considered one of the world’s most LGBTQ-friendly destinations. But it still has social and legal challenges.
The first draft of the civil partnership bill approved by the Thai government last year was criticized by activists due to its lack of legal inclusion. Same-sex marriage has not yet been officially recognized although this bill gives couples a certain extension of marriage rights.
However, with the first group of transgender MPs now in parliament and talks and exhibitions having been held across the country to promote discussion around sexual diversity, the country has shown signs it is experiencing changes that greatly impact its LGBTQ community.