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Out of countless insights and anecdotes that have emerged from conversations about art over the years, one particularly sticks in my memory. After visiting World War II memorial sites, an artist friend described the profound awfulness of viewing a room full of human hair. “This,” he added, “is what art has to compete with.”

Brian Curtin explores the work of Bangkok-based artist Jakkai Siributr in this excerpt from his recent article.

Siributr is an artist who brings together many aspects of contemporary art – installation, sculpture, sociopolitical awareness, local and yet international appeal – with an emotional wallop that forces consideration of the sentiment raised by my artist friend.
I am not sure many artists would agree, involved, as they usually are, with a wide range of practices where intense experience counts as only one possible option. But the comment lingers for other reasons. Is there a place for such an aim amid the hyper-conscious, cool forms of much contemporary art, which require audiences to decode rather than feel? And if artists were to “compete” with the impact of horrific remnants from history, would they fail because of the lack of a sense of authenticity that historic sites are more likely to provide?
Jakkai Siributr at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok

Above: Jakkai Siributr at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok.

Recently shown in three major showcases in Bangkok and Hong Kong, including a retrospective from the last two decades, the themes that run across Jakkai’s often elaborately constructed works include the volatile politics of his home country, devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the collision of personal and political histories.
A potential for drama is usually tempered by poignancy because much of his art has a fragile quality. One series, “Outworn” (2023), is assembled from the uniforms of service workers who were especially affected by the pandemic and includes talismanic trinkets that signify the superstitions of hope at a time of crisis.
Jakkai Siributr exhibition
In Jakkai’s home city, “Matrilineal,” which opened in December 2023 at the 100 Tonson Foundation, builds on a series from 2017 titled “18/28: The Singhaseni Tapestries,” named after the artist’s address and the family name of his then-recently deceased mother. Large, billowing forms made primarily from her clothing held an uncanny presence, not least because of the faint scent of the old fabrics.
When presented at the ninth Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Australia during 2019, the works were accompanied by a soundtrack read from the deceased’s diaries, mingling references to the banalities of everyday life with observations on violent episodes in modern Thai history.
At 100 Tonson, the series continues with garments owned by other female relatives and memorabilia such as jewelry and crockery. As with so much of the artist’s work, the surfaces are highly compelling — glittering, tactile, ephemeral, and intimate in detail but expansive in scale. I asked Jakkai about the process of making these pieces, and his intentions. “In creating these works I followed closely the tradition of quilt-making by utilizing old garments that once belonged to these women through embroidery, sewing and turning them into art pieces,” he said.
“First and foremost, these series are a tribute to the lives of the women who have greatly shaped me in becoming who I am today. The works also address how one deals with grief and loss and how to hold on to the memories of those who are no longer with us. But because these women lived through one of the most tumultuous times in Thai history and were affected directly by certain incidents along the way, incidents that are still difficult to discuss openly, not only do I intend to keep their memories alive but I wish to keep the history alive as well.
“In this region, it is endemic for history to be erased and rewritten, so it is vital to keep talking about it so it will not be forgotten.”