9 August 2017
Not knowing how to draw or paint, the artist Nakrob Moonmanas creates collages in which Western and Thai influences are constantly merging in order to render the hermetic concept of “Thainess” more intelligible.
It is impossible not to wonder about the relationship between Western and Asian cultures – Thai culture in particular – when one takes a closer look at the works of Nakrob Moonmanas. Indeed, this young artist of 26 years old rewrites the rules through his collages, revisiting classic works, beliefs and traditions in an iconoclastic manner.
With a few words of French, Nakrob Moonmanas welcomed us to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center where Sacrifices, his first solo exhibition, is being held throughout the month of July. Graduated in literature and languages at Chulalongkorn University, this illustrator finds his inspiration in the streets of Bangkok, in literature, in history, but also in Paris, a city that he describes a school of art.
He combines images from his different sources of inspiration, not hesitating to replace the Christ and the apostles from Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper with monks in his painting Lord Buddha and his Disciples, or to place characters from the Ramakien epic by the sides of John Everett Millais’ Ophelia. If his works may on first sight amuse or even shock, Nakrob is not merely seeking to juxtapose images. In a country in which culture and tradition are too often untouchable, he primarily intends to render the concept of “Thainess” more tangible and open to the world.
Where do you come from?
I was born in Bangkok. Its atmosphere inspires me a lot, it’s really a collage city, you have monks, churches, temples, department stores, the dirty, the ugly and the beautiful, everything combine together in a sort of collage. It’s really colourful and for me that’s where the Thainess really lies, it’s not limited to the Thai dance, royalty and religions. Thainess is in everyday life, in our laziness: arai ko dai, sabai sabai, mai pen rai … not just the sweet “sawadee krap”.
How can we apprehend “Thainess?”
I don’t know how the foreigners look at it, but as a Thai in this country, I think most of us see Thainess as something intangible, far from the earth, far from us, the Thainess is used for such highest things like royal or religious things. Thai people cannot imagine we will wear traditional clothes on our daily life, for example. So I think maybe in some term they are like, so chilly.
For some people Thainess comes from Thailand and Thai people but when you look at the history, the concept of Thainess has been entirely created out of the blue.
Thainess is a combination of Indian, western and Chinese influences. That is the thainess I appreciate. But nowadays, Thais don’t want to see that Thainess is this combination of cultural diversity, they see it only as a higher art, an art which is not tangible. Especially teenagers are very far from this Thainess.
We are in a postmodern world where everything is overlapping now, the old structures are collapsing. The main idea behind my artwork is that we need to go to the world. It’s a big issue in Thailand, we are taught to be only Thai, but we cannot only be Thai people, we have to become world citizens.
Why do you use the technique of collage?
I didn’t study graphic art because I cannot draw, I cannot paint, but I wanted to tell my stories so I had to find a medium that suited me. That’s why I use collage, it’s something that everyone can do. At elementary school, all the children do collages to create New Year’s cards and so on. When I studied at university, I found some old magazines, old books, and I thought it was really interesting, there were really good pictures but too untouchable. We learned about history and literature, we learned without understanding the meaning, without imagination. On my collages, I try to show the meaning behind, I started to create collages to make the thainess tangible again.
This is your first solo exhibition…
When King Bhumibol passed away, I already made an exhibition which just featured his portrait. This one is really my first-scale solo exhibition. I’m very excited to be exhibited at the BACC, because you can see monks, children, students who come to see you work. Everyone can see it and not only the people in the art field.
Why it’s called “Sacrifices”?
To do my collages, I have to “sacrify” ancient artists, the past faith, old ancestors… When I cut some pictures it’s such a sacrifice because you lose the old to create a new. Sometimes, we have to leave the old thing to create the new, we have to go forward, to lose and to forget to be in the present and go to the future. The past is not better than the future, the future is not better than the past, for me it’s neutral, I don’t romanticize the past, you have to keep the good things but if we don’t lose and forget, we can’t grow up.
What do people say about your artwork?
Some people, especially some conservative people, said that I cannot use the portrait of the king or the queen, the portrait of Buddha and combined them with western elements or with some new pictures because it’s not appropriate. I think it is nonsense: I don’t have any disrespect, I do it in a respectful way. The King, the Queen, the God(s), the Buddha are such inspiring persons, I just want to adapt to create a new narrative, a new perspective.
Do you censor yourself?
Sometimes, but most of the time I don’t. I have a message to tell so it’s nonsense to censor my own message, I do all of my pictures with respect, in my own way.
Where do you collect your pictures?
From shops, flea markets, “marchés aux puces”, Chatuchak… Because I think that if you’re doing collages you have to be a collector. I have a very, very, massive collection at home. Every time I see some magazines or books, I think: “maybe I can do something with that”, but it might just be an excuse to buy things I want to buy!
You’re learning French, why?
Yes, I’m learning French at Alliance française, I would like to continue my studies in France. I love Paris so much, I’ve been there already 4 times. For me the French capital is really a big school of art. I don’t have a degree in art, so every time I go to Paris, I can see all the artists from around the world, I can see classical, modern, Asian, African works. Paris is my university of art, this city is my massive source of inspiration and its link with History, also Thai History. Back to Ayutthaya Kingdom, Thais have travelled to Paris and French people to Thailand. Many Thais just visit Paris for the Galeries Lafayette, to buy Louis Vuitton and take a picture in front of the pyramid in the Louvre and at the Eiffel Tower, they don’t see the footprints of our ancestors…