Life In Art
Lavonne Cheah 
Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh’s 'The Way of Life of Malay Locals in the Three Southern Most Provinces of Thailand' (2005).

Working in partnership with MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Ilham Gallery is holding the Patani Semasa exhibition on contemporary art and culture from now until July 15. It focuses on the region of Patani on the eastern coast of the Thai peninsula that comprises the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and parts of Songkhla.

This exhibition explores the region’s past and present through artworks and cultural representations by 27 artists. They include Ampannee Satoh, Amru Thaisnit, Anis Nagasevi, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, I-na Phuyuthanon, Jakkai Siributr, Jamilah Daud, Jamilah Haji, Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh, Kameelah I-lala and Keeta Isran.

Putting it together are curators Gridthiya Gaweewong, Kasamaponn Saengsuratham, Kittima Chareeprasit and Ekkalak Napthuesuk, who described the process of organising the exhibition as interesting.

“We learn a lot throughout the process. There were many research trips to Pattani and Narathiwas as well as studio visits to meet with cultural activists, thinkers and specialists of the region. We would like for the exhibition to travel around Southeast Asia and beyond,” says Gaweewong.

In order to provide varied perspectives of the region, he explains that they purposely seek out artists of different generations based in Patani as well as those from other parts of Thailand and from Malaysia.

One of the leading contemporary artists from Patani is Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh, the founder of Patani Art Space in Nongjik in Pattani province. Jehsorhoh is known for works that offer a counter-narrative to the socio-political landscape constructed by the media and the state. His early paintings were the manifestation of the negotiation of identity of being a Malay Muslim in the deep south of Thailand and mainstream Thai-ness.

After the mid-2000s, he worked on portraits that depicted the thin line separating life and death, incorporating elements of violence and weaponry.

However, the curators wanted to balance this stereotypical image of Patani with calmer scenes of daily life here. Enter Mumadsoray Deng, or Soray, who uses his skill in photography to bring more awareness to a community’s plight. His photographs generally present the cultural life of the Malay communities in Pattani. These “positive images” are not usually depicted in the mainstream media.

Salwanee Hajisamae’s Wait of Widow (2012)

Then there is Ampannee Satoh, whose photographs present the gentle and peaceful qualities of the women in Pattani. Again, Satoh’s works often break from the media’s stereotype of Pattani.

Another artist to look out for is Pratchaya Phinthong. Phinthong is from Ubon Ratchathanee in the northeast of Thailand. The new exhibition features one of his most prominent works, Namprik Zauguna, which was inspired by a story he heard on the radio about an Isan woman who married a Malay Muslim and converted to Islam. The couple later settled in Pattani. After her husband passed away, she made a living by producing a chilli paste called zauguna in collaboration with other women in her community.

The chilli paste is sold across Thailand and overseas. Though chilli paste is not a staple food in Patani, it has, however, played a role in strengthening the bond between these women and giving them a steady source of income.

This installation originally consisted of two parts – film negatives and the chilli paste containers stacked in the form of a pyramid. However, in this exhibition, only the chilli paste installation is on display, along with a letter from the Isan widow, Orn-uma Thani, which was published in the book, Voice of Hope: Women in Thailand’s Deep South. The best part is that visitors also get to take home the chilli paste.

“There are many other interesting artworks. You need to come and see for yourself how each artist expresses his or her own ideas about life in Patani,” concludes Gaweewong.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 278.