Sunday, 29 March 2015

12. Bangkok: Street Art by Permission 

by Amandine Urruty and Nicolas Barrome (France) 

Bangkok is not exactly what you'd call a great street-art city. Or even a good one. There are very few places in this monster-sized urban area where you'll find even modest stretches of art.

Tracking down street art in Bangkok means trekking across miles, through highly congested streets, breathing in polluted ("toxic"might be a better word) air, avoiding being run over by more types of vehicles than you can imagine, and tending to the wonky knee that you didn't have before you climbed three flight of stairs at the mono-rail station because the escalator wasn't working. Not to mention the baking sun and punishing humidity. It humbles you.

Bangkok came late to the street-art party. It really had no presence in the city until early 2013, when 15 European and 11 Thai artists painted large murals on approved spaces, in a festival called Bukruk (Invasion). Truthfully, the best works were by the Europeans, like the one kicking off this post, and these by:

Romanian artist Saddo:

Germany's Low Brothers:

And Daan Bolrek from Holland:

Then there was the one that almost got away. We street-art seekers are a bit like fishers - we always lament the one we didn't capture. Portugal's Kruella D'enfer painted this magnificent image, inspired by the race of giants (Laks) who supposedly protect Buddhist temples. We are grateful to without whom we would not have this picture:

Still, there was one discovery that we were truly proud to have made. We were out on one of our mid-day street-art prowls, when we spotted several young girls playing with a group of kittens behind a building. We went over to check out the kittens and, looking behind a haphazardly placed table, spotted these amazing beauties stashed up against the wall: 

While the Thai artists taking part in the Bukruk festival may have lacked the technical prowess of their European counterparts, there was still a certain authenticity and primitiveness to their work. It helped that their primary canvas was the outer walls of several abandoned buildings, below a monorail station in a run-down part of town - hearkening back to the early days of North American street art. 

Bangkokians Alex Face and Bon contributed their leitmotif baby rabbit and boned fish:

Their Thai countryman Mamafaka (MMFK) added his signature creation, MR. HEALYEAH, while P7 gave him a psychedelic dog as a companion:

Tragically, MMFK died a few months later in a surfing accident off the island of Phuket. We'll see more of his work when we look at street art in Chiang Mai. Meanwhile, P7 painted over both the images with his own character:

These murals may look a bit more spontaneous and subversive than the ones executed by their European counterparts, but don't let that fool you. Each and every one one was fully approved by the powers that be. Military dictatorships can be like that.

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