Thailand is a country that is rich with culture, warm weather, and passionate people. Although embodying those three things tie the regions of Thailand together, the contents of each region are distinguishably different. It is geographically split into four parts: South, Central, North, and Northeast. The Northeast, known as the Isaan region to Thai people, has influences from Thailand, Laos, and China, among others. Many people in this region don’t even speak Thai, they speak Lao. Because of this connection between countries, the Isaan region has a beautiful blend of history that creates a unique part of Thailand. This region, Isaan, is where I spent my semester studying abroad. Khon Kaen is the main hub of Isaan and also the place that I have been calling home.
To me, the environment and art are two of the most beautiful, cherished, and valuable pieces that we as citizens of the Earth are able to enjoy. Thailand very obviously has a multitude of both; there are dozens of national parks and ornate temples on each block of every city. This was one of the driving reasons I chose to come to Thailand in the first place. The traditional scenes, both natural and manmade, called to me, and they are even more beautiful than I pictured in my head. This is the tale of two land-loving artists right in my own backyard.
Khon Kaen University holds an annual event called “Art Lane” where students and artists alike are able to share their work with the public. I attended with excitement, relishing the idea to see hundreds of Thai people expressing themselves and the world around them. What I did not expect to find, though, were people that are so connected to their natural homes and the region around them, that it permeates their pieces of art to the point that they are inseparable.
Jantimaporn Shiwasawod, an education student at KKU, described herself as an audience of art much more than a maker of it. Her pieces say quite the opposite.
Motivated by animal injustice in her region, Jantimaporn creates stamped patches depicting local animals that are endangered. A Khon Kaen business man recently hunted these endangered animals, mostly famously a black panther, inside a wildlife preserve. She believes that using art is the best way to create awareness and justice for the victims of the hunter.
Jantimaporn says, “If you make some kind of art it is more heartfelt.
If you put the signs along the street it will just be a thing that people see but if you make art people can buy them. People can participate and help this issue. Because the money goes to the forest foundation.” As she said herself, the money raised from selling the patches is being donated to the foundation from the preserve that the animals used to live in.
Environmental advocacy is a common theme that is shared with another Isaan artist, Tong Talayla. Tong is a ceramics maker, who creates beautiful bowls and figurines from resources found right in his heartland.
“Most of my artwork is influenced from the natural resources like soil. The soil used in the ceramics is soil can only be found in Isaan region. The inspiration come from the idea that a lot of people think the kind of soil in Isaan as a very cheap thing. I tried to increase the value of the soil by making art from it.”
“It is the combination of my happiness and my need to create awareness. I need to create these things. The thing that makes me happy is when I wake up I can touch this soil and create something wonderful from this. Every single time I finish making a piece I can take a photo and publish it so everyone can see that the soil here is wonderful.”
Art like the works done by these two artists showcases the sublime-ness of the northeast of Thailand. Jantimaporn and Tong are talented and motivated Isaan peoples, who are both making the region more beautiful with their art and more environmentally friendly with their animal and soil advocacy. Using nature to make art or using art to help nature, either way I can’t picture a more perfect collaboration.