Bangkok is the center of foreign desire.
More often than not, what is seen of Thailand, is the image foreigners expect to see of Thailand. From massage parlors, to Pad Thais, to gold-tipped pagodas and giant Buddhas, to name a few examples, Thai identity has been reduced to a form of escapism for the overworked Westerners under capitalism. It is perhaps not a coincidence that this year’s Bangkok Art Biennale, organized by the Ministry of Culture, set the theme of ‘Escape Routes’, reinforcing the image of the capital as a site of relaxation, culinary and carnal indulgence. As is the case of other similar developing countries, tourism has had a large impact not only on the economy of the country but also, on its ecology, and self-representation.
Tourism as a neocolonial strategy, manipulates the desire for exoticism into furthering racial, gender and socioeconomic stereotypes. The function of stereotypes is to maintain the power imbalance between the Western dominant and the marginalized Other. In internalizing these Western stereotypes, the marginalized subject believes they are responding to a desire that’s been made of them. But the root of this desire is fabricated and arbitrarily-assigned. It therefore only deepens feelings of alienation and othering within the marginalized subject.
Countering this view, the eminent French West Indian philosopher Franz Fanon places desire as an agent of empowerment: “As soon as I desire I am asking to be considered. I am not merely here-and-now, sealed into thingness. I am for somewhere else and for something else. I demand that notice be taken of my negating activity insofar as I pursue something other than life; insofar as I do battle for the creation of a human world- that is a world of reciprocal recognitions.”
To be able to desire exceeds the logic of being fixed. True desire is acknowledging the limits of one’s cultural beliefs, accepting the unknown and letting oneself be taken by an Other. It is a co-imagining through experiences of others towards a place and time that have not yet to come. How can we use desire as a creative agent for a human world “of reciprocal recognitions”? How can transnational relationships be reinstated outside of power dynamics?
The MAHA Pavilion is a play on the Thai prefix ‘maha’ (มหา) which means “grand”, used in Bangkok’s name itself. Homophonically, it can also mean “visit” or “come here” (มาหา). For the Bangkok Biennial 2020, the Pavilion is inviting 5 international artists to work with local Bangkok artists in creating performances for a land that they do not know. The local Bangkok artists will enact the series of performances, conceptualized by the foreign artists for specific sites across Bangkok. Their actions across the city will leave no trace, aside from the memory of the actions themselves.
The Pavilion seeks to play with the power dynamic between the desiring and the desired, the foreigner and the exotic subject, the artist/author and the artist/fabricator. Can the desire for something foreign, something distinct from yourself, upends what one thinks one knows? Can this desire release us from fixed identities and nations from borders? By embracing the unknowability of a culture, a history, a society, we participate in imagining new relationships between people and place, transforming the familiar into the uncanny.
Los Angeles, CA 2020
Born in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1989, Prima Jalichandra-Sakuntabhai is a transdisciplinary artist based in Los Angeles, working in performance, video and installation.
They earned their Visual Arts Degree from the Ecole des Beaux Arts de Nantes Metropole, in 2010 and a License in Film Studies at the Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3, in 2011. In 2013, they completed their Bachelor of Fine Arts at the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago. They obtained their Master of Fine Arts at the California College of the Arts, in San Francisco, in 2017.
Their work addresses the structures of euro-centric masculine power in space and architecture, and its impact on other forms of identities. Through performative lectures and site-specific installations, they take apart the physical and structural tools of the Western academic, underlining the fictional nature of Western rationality and the way hegemony legitimizes certain truths over others.
They participated in the 2015 Arizona Biennial at the Tucson Museum of Art. In 2016, they received the SOMA Summer Award to attend SOMA Summer Program in Mexico City.
Recent projects include: L.E.H.M. (Le Corbusier Entering Hadrian’s Mausoleum, 1965), Actual Size Gallery, (Los Angeles, CA), Seven Springs, Pieters Project (Los Angeles, CA), Prima Jalichandra-Sakuntabhai and Pauline Gloss, Land And Sea (Oakland, CA), Fieldnotes for Useful Light, The Prelinger Library (San Francisco, CA), Irrational Exhibits 11: Place-Making and Social Memory, Track 16 (Los Angeles, CA) and The Anthropologist As Hero, in collaboration with Linda Franke, Justine Melford-Colegate and Jessica Hyatt, PAM Residencies (Los Angeles, CA).
MAHA Pavilion is their first curatorial project.