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The nude and the naked

Aug 15. 2015
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By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul

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Two Bangkok exhibitions give exposure to a centuries-old fine art
A TRADITION IN Western art that dates back centuries, nude figures have long been controversial here in Asia. While no one would call Michelangelo’s “David” or Peter Paul Ruben’s “The Three Graces” obscene, the line between nudity and nakedness, artistic or pornographic, is often hard to define and in Thailand, nudes have largely been kept behind closed doors for fear of causing offence.
Which makes it all the more surprising that Bangkok is playing host not to one but two exhibitions of nude art this month. “Body Light Motion” is showing at HOF Art Space and “Naked Allure ” is opening on Thursday at the Seven Art Gallery on Sathorn Soi 5.
“Yes, nude art is a mainly Western concept but examples of the unclothed male and female forms date back to Ancient Greece,” says Jaturong Hirankarn, who has used his signature technique of overlapping photographs in his collection for “Body Light Motion”. 
“I would love people to understand what fine art photography of the female nude actually means. I used to worry about the distinction between nude and naked, which is art and which belongs to the pages of men’s magazines. My aim is to show the difference between art and obscenity. Indeed, one of my female models tells me if anybody looks at my creative nude photo and feels aroused, then he should consult a psychologist! She recognises the art in my work – the beauty, story and technique. No matter how beautiful or sexy the nude model is, I overlook the sexuality and focus on emotional expression, manner, light and shadow as well as composition,” Jaturong adds.
“‘Sensual Flow’, which focuses on a model’s breasts covered in sweat isn’t obscene,” adds fellow artist Thanakorn Telan, who is collaborating with Jaturong on the show.
Indeed, wandering around “Body Light Motion” on the second floor of HOF Art Space, W District, it is clear that both lensmen have concentrated on accentuating the contrast between shadow and light on the form and structure of the object, which just happens to be the female body.
“‘Flow No 1’, which is overlapped with a photo of the sky, is about freedom. The female model in the photo is like a bird flying in the sky in search of freedom. ‘Deep in Thought’ shows a woman looking sad as she leans against a decaying wall. And in ‘End of Time’, a tousled-headed woman sleeps on the road with a dead tree root signifying her despair at living in the urban forest. These photos all represent the despondent city woman,” explains Jaturong.
“The set of a woman in the water actually features more than 10 photographs but I am only exhibiting three here. They were taken in the early evening in the pool at my home and show a woman floating aimlessly until suddenly she finds light,” says Thanakorn.
The show “Naked Allure ” is an exhibition of 150 drawings based on the beauty of the female form. It features works by 17 artists, namely Vasan Sitthiket, Muangthai Busamaro, Ekachai Laudsoongnern, Prateep Kochabua, Dinhin Rakpong-Asoke, Gumsak Atipiboonsin, Taweesak Ujugatanond, Srisant Chitvaranund, Nawin Biadklang, Kongsak Gulglangdon, Amnaj Wachirasut, Krit Chantranet, Palut Marod, Kritsana Chaikitwattana, Woravut Intorn, Sudaporn Teja, and Paritat Hutanggura. 
They all took part in a recent talk, explaining their works and how they personally interpret nude and nakedness.
“I think that the difference between art and obscenity depends on what you see at first glance. If you appreciate the colours, the strokes, the characteristics and the appearance, the nude is art. But, if you look and feeling a sexual stirring, it is obscene. All I can ask is that viewers leave their prejudices at the door,” says Sudaporn.
“My works are about the purity of life as well as the nature of the human. I like light and shadow on the body and the fluidity of the lines. My paintings are separated into three parts: women with emotional expression and body language, the pregnant woman whose body changes as the child grows in the womb and contemporary women like a lady boy. The lady boy was the only one to be shy about posing nude.”
“The aesthetic judgement of whether it is art or obscene depends on the artist’s intention, the way he poses his model, and the focus on the female model’s sexual organ. The concept of this group exhibition is beauty and it’s not in the least obscene. In fact, I would liken it to the difference between movies rated R and adult video,” says Kritsana. 
“I don’t want anybody to have sexual emotions when looking at my paintings. My work is about the rawness of emotion. My model is a prostitute working at the July 22 Roundabout, who must respond to the raw needs of lower-class men. So, I show the violence in the human mind. In the lady boy, the emotion portrays social repression. Although the painting of the lady boy shows his penis, it isn’t about sexuality.”
Palut feels much the same way.
“When I’m painting with a naked model in front of me, I don’t think about sexuality but the structure of art. However, because my subject is nude, people think I am producing something obscene. So, I drop colour on the canvas, which is overlapped by another canvas. The layers of colours and textures depict love,” he says.
Yet while the artists all see the nude as a work of art built around a subject much like a landscape or still life, they are also aware that for local audiences at least, it remains on the aesthetic edge, with the ever present risk of losing its respectability and spilling over into the obscene.
“Art needs an explanation, because those who view it see things differently. However, we would like people to open their minds and attempt to appreciate the art rather than the subject,” says Muangthai. 
“My works show a naked woman doing such normal everyday things as opening the curtains or combing her hair. I try to cover her female attributes through angles and colour. I am well aware nudity is a risky subject here.”
Gumsak too has taken care not to bare all. His works are intense and extremely emotional, using a trail of colours rather than the body to get his message across.
- “Body Light Motion” is at HOF Art Space until Monday. The show then moves to HOF Art Residency from Wednesday until August 31. Both venues are open from 10am to 7pm daily. For details, check
- “Naked Allure ” opens on Thursday at the Seven Art Gallery on Sathorn Soi 5 and continues until September 19. It’s open daily from 9am to 7pm. “Naked Allure ” will be at HOF Art Space at W District in November. For details, call (082) 440 5353.

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