If my exhibition were to be a song, it would be the “River of No Return”.
I still remember it clearly.
Every morning my mother would sit in front of her makeup table. I would lay on the floor and look at her while she put on makeup on her face little by little. It was a beautiful moment. The smell of her makeup was so nice. Every time they play this song my mother would sing along. The moments where my mother put on her makeup with this song playing along were magical indeed.
I was only two and a half years old when my father was a victim of hate crime. In 1977, he was beaten by racists in Germany and died several months later. He was 35 years old. My mother became a single mother who raised two children all by herself. My memories to my father was from what my mother has told me.
Mother said during the time my father worked in a German company, the family was fine and had lived a pretty well-to-do life. I could see that from the things he had left to us. We had an 8mm projector and films, a slide projector which my mother would play the films and slides my father recorded when he was in Europe. Some whiskey bottles, souvenirs from Europe such as a small paperweight depicting Pieta, a plate with Caravaggio painting printed on it… etc.
After my father passed away, mother had to stay at grandmother’s house. Grandmother’s house was in the ghetto, and so my childhood life was surrounded by poverty.
My mother has Parkinson’s disease and can barely move now. I just bought a house which I wish we all can live together; my mother, her caretaker, my nieces, my sister and me. My sister had just passed away on 15 May 2019. She was 47 years old when she died. My mother was totally heart broken.
When she learned of my sister’s passing, she cried and kept saying that she had begged 35 years ago when my father died, to the holy spirits to please not let this happen to her again.
The migrant workers in Germany that I have worked with were women. This project relates to my sister, and also, my father. For my sister, I found the relationship of being a Thai woman who was born and raised in Thai culture.
There are belief systems which control their lives, and lead them to believe that women would never be able to be free.
Like most of the women I met in Berlin, my sister believes that life is only happy or complete when you find a good husband. These women whom I’ve met, including my sister, face unhappiness in family life and do not have good relationships with their husbands. One of the women whom I met in Berlin was raped, and delivered an unexpected child - her life was ruined since. These led them to a tragic life.
For my sister, she became depressed and died at a young age of 47 years old.
What inspired my art was my life’s journey through the past 10 years. I have had opportunities to create work in many countries and one of the most memorable was in Rwanda.
I worked with orphaned children who were born in 1994, the year of the Rwandan genocide. They survived the civil war, and carry many stories with them - I hear the story of a young man who was born to a mother who was raped by many men and he had HIV from birth.
This changed my vision of how I see the world. One side is to look through information from the media, and the other side, which is the most important part, is to meet real people with flesh and blood.
All these experiences became my inspiration to understand life of those who were trapped, especially people from such colonial countries, developing countries and those countries that still have some troubles from post-colonial era such as Myanmar.
I met Watuze Ali, a man of Bengali descent born in Mawlamyine, Myanmar, when he was working in Thailand. He told me the story of his grandfather who was once a rich man and used to own a big plot of land. His grandfather was a farmer until one day when the Burmese military junta reidentified and treated all Bengali descents as non-Burmese and that changed his destiny forever.
I assume this situation would correspond to the ethnic cleansing during the U Ne Win regime. Despite being addressed as Bengalese residing in Myanmar, his family along with other Bengaleses could no longer own land, as a result of the ethnic cleansing policy. Ever since, he and his family have stumbled to the most difficult of life.
He told me poverty knocked on his door before it escalated to violence everywhere that his family and every Bengalese wanted to flee from Myanmar. He recalled that he was 13 years old, and that was in 2000, determining to escape Myanmar for Thailand.
Every Bengalese youngster over there definitely knew the group of people called “นำพา”. The words in Thai means the Leader. In other words, these people are human traffickers who would navigate them to cross the border from Myanmar to Thailand, and later sell them to the Roti gangsters in Thailand.
The Leader (นำพา) would sell each person for 4,500 baht (~US$300). And, in exchange for bringing them to Thailand, they will have to work for the gangster as a Roti vendor for one year without payment. You could see these Roti carts at every corner of the street in Thailand. These Roti street vendors are mostly Bengalese from Myanmar.
The Leader (นำพา) would lead them from Myanmar to Thailand by walking and some of them died during the trip. The way they brought him to Thailand was walking through bushes, forests, and crossing mountain after mountain.
Art is one of the most transparent but not yet, lens to reality.
I believe if we can start to learn to be more empathetic towards others by giving more love, and to not look at them through ideologies, or believing everything we receive from the media, etc., we can start to better understand our life, and to understand others.
We can all start by looking at the people around us, and to be curious to want to understand others. Then, we can expand to a wider group of people.
To understand the forest, I believe I should start to understand the one leaf on my hand.