LGBT+ art takes centre stage at Thai gallery

An exhibit at an LGBT+ contemporary art show featuring Asian artists in Bangkok, Thailand. November 20, 2019 – Image: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Rina Chandran

Intimate portraits of friends created by a Chinese artist before he took his own life. An Indian painter’s depiction of life before and after homosexuality was decriminalised.

These are some of the images on display at an Asian contemporary art show, that opened in the Thai capital, Bangkok, on Saturday, seeking to fight LGBT+ discrimination, in a region where same-sex behaviour is still criminalised.

The exhibition at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), which runs until March 1, features the works of nearly 60 Asian artists, and is the second such exhibition after a show in Taipei two years ago.

It is aimed at engaging with people who may have differing views on LGBT+ people and art, said Patrick Sun, founder of Hong Kong-based, Sunpride Foundation, whose collection is the foundation of the show.

“Art is less confrontational – it’s perhaps more palatable to the general public, who may not go to a Pride march, or support marriage equality,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Bangkok.

“This is why it is in a public gallery, because we want the general public to come and see the art, think about it, talk about it, and perhaps change their minds,” he said.

Sun said he picked Taipei and Bangkok as venues, because of their more liberal attitudes toward homosexuality.

Earlier this year, Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalise marriage equality, and lawmakers in Thailand are drafting a Civil Partnership Bill to give more rights to same-sex couples.

Elsewhere in the region, India decriminalised homosexuality last year, but conservative values and deep-rooted biases have hamstrung progress on gay rights in countries including Myanmar, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.

For LGBT+ artists in Asian countries where anti-gay sentiment still exists, it can be hard to create their work freely, said Chatvichai Promadhattavedi, a former director of BACC, who curated the show.

“Their art is seen as subversive or erotic and it is forbidden or frowned upon, which makes it harder for them to be accepted and to be successful as artists,” he said.

“But it is such a misperception that all LGBT art is about sex. It is about suffering, joy, relationships, human rights – it’s a reflection of life, yet a life that has faced terrible tragedies and enormous challenges,” he said.

The show includes photographs by Ren Hang, a gay Chinese artist who did a series of intimate portraits of his friends before taking his own life in 2017 at the age of 29.

Indian artist Sunil Gupta, who is HIV-positive, uses Greek myths and pre-Raphaelite tradition to portray same-sex couples.

A commissioned work of India’s Balbir Krishan is a striking contrast of life before and after the country’s anti-gay law was scrapped last year.

There are also works from Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong.

“For the public, it is a chance to engage with something they may not otherwise be exposed to,” said Chatvichai.

“For us, it is a way to sway public opinion because art has the power to bring about social change.”

-Rina Chandran @rinachandran – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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