12 December 2019

Spectrosynthesis II —
Exposure of Tolerance:
LGBTQ in Southeast Asia

Portrait of a Man in Habits Gay Mixed II / Gay Mixed IV

Spectrosynthesis II — Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia (สนทนาสัปตสนธิ ๒: ไตร่ถาม ความหลากหลายในอุษาคเนย์) opened at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre on 23rd November. This major group exhibition features more than fifty artists, and is on show until 1st March next year. The substantial catalogue includes an essay by curator Chatvichai Promadhattavedi.

Highlights include Michael Shaowanasai’s Portrait of a Man in Habits, in which the artist poses as a monk wearing female make-up. When it was first shown, at the Chulalongkorn Art Center’s Alien {Gener}ation exhibition in 2000, it was condemned by the Thai Rath (ไทยรัฐ) newspaper. This led to complaints from Buddhist groups, and the photograph was withdrawn from display.

Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Lê’s collages Gay Mixed II and Gay Mixed IV are also included. They are constructed from photographic strips woven together like traditional Vietnamese mats, though they include images from gay pornography censored in Vietnam.

Ohm Phanphiroj’s short video Underage, in which he interviews young boys forced into prostitution in Bangkok, was removed from the exhibition less than a month after it opened, following a high-level complaint. Thus, although Thailand is becoming increasingly accepting of gay culture, it remains hypersensitive to any material that exposes the country’s extreme social inequality. Rather than addressing the underlying problem, the official policy seems to be: shoot the messenger.