Critics’ Picks

Prateep Suthathongthai, Isan Volume 1, 2018, oil on linen, 12 1/2 x 15 1/2".

Prateep Suthathongthai, Isan Volume 1, 2018, oil on linen, 12 1/2 x 15 1/2".


Prateep Suthathongthai

100 Tonson Foundation
100 Soi Tonson, Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Pathumwan
November 22, 2018–May 5, 2019

Contrary to the common pattern of rural populations migrating to big cities for work, Prateep Suthathongthai moved from Bangkok, where he was born, to Maha Sarakham province, in the northeastern region of the country known as Isan. This area was a major site of the United States’ anti-communist efforts against Laos during the Cold War, and, subsequently, a setting for the country’s rapid urbanization and Westernization. With the distance of belonging to the generation born after this period, Suthathongthai began collecting and faithfully reproducing publications—some of which were part of the national government’s propaganda campaigns—that were disseminated across Isan from the 1950s to the ’70s. His copies on view in this exhibition, “A Little Rich Country,” are represented only by their covers, which he has translated into paintings on canvas.

Prince of the People (all works 2018), for example, replicates a 1977 text publicizing and promoting an image of the king of Thailand as a young man, cordially greeting the people upon his return home from studying abroad. Reflecting an attempt to hide the nation’s poverty and the rise of communist rebels, Isan Volume 1 depicts a young girl smiling welcomingly toward the viewer, an image which originally was intended to revive the region’s tourism back in 1981. There’s No Laughter from Isan portrays another young woman, this time with a baby on her hip and her hand to her head, in a gesture of distress. In light of Thailand’s recent history, marked by proxy wars and globalization, attempts at liberalization and coups d’état, these timeworn covers allow the artist space to contemplate his country’s national identity, while nodding to how identity has always been a concept as tenuous as it is all too familiar.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.