Critics’ Picks

Paphonsak La-or, Far from Home (SWEDEN), 2017, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60".


Paphonsak La-or

2198/10-11 Soi Taweewattana (Narathiwas 22), Chong Nonsi, Yan Nawa
June 17–July 22

At first glance, Paphonsak La-or’s solo exhibition “Klai Ban” (“Far from Home”) seems to consist of a few dozen innocuous paintings of mountains in various foreign locales, but upon closer inspection, it yields a much more subversive and multilayered interpretation of the current political turmoil in Thailand. Paphonsak is among a handful of young Thai artists whose works have consistently addressed issues of censorship and freedom of expression, which has been severely restricted by the military regime and by regal intervention in recent years.

The colorful, picture-perfect landscape paintings in this exhibition portray the highest peaks in thirteen countries where twenty-eight Thai political exiles currently reside. Mountains often delineate national borders, across which many exiles have to trek to find freedom. Their traversals of these natural barriers are reminders that the mountainous boundary can either impede or provide freedom, ensconcing and defining the realms of sovereign powers that protect émigrés. These paintings are a devastating cartography of the displaced.

The show’s title itself offers one significant clue: “Klai Ban” is a well-known series of letters King Chulalongkorn sent to his family while visiting Europe in 1907. Considering that most Thai political exiles had to flee the country because of the draconian lèse-majesté, or the royal defamation law first enacted during Chulalongkorn’s reign, the juxtaposition of the king’s and his subjects’ expeditions could not be more poignant.