Finally, another political upheaval is over—at least for now—, and so is what has turned a five-day Thai New Year weekend into a ten-day one, probably the longest consecutive holiday in the history of our, or any, country.
It is indeed a piece of good news for all Thai people and a big sigh of relief is heard from the Ministry of Culture’s Office of Contemporary Art and Culture who’s about to hold their largest event called “Bangkok Bananas”. Originally intended to show that contemporary arts are easy to digest and delectable, the title suddenly has an unfortunate but very apt double meaning.
Kicking off on the evening of Thursday, April 30, and lasting 11 consecutive days until Sunday, May 10, “Bangkok Bananas” is at a prime location as it spans the stretch of outdoors venues from Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC) at Patumwan intersection all the way to
A quick glance through the recently-released festival schedule shows a good promise and this seemingly well-curated event should overall be both a celebration of Thai contemporary arts and a timely boost of morale for local and foreign audiences after recent time of troubles. On offer are contemporary Thai artists’ large-scale sculptures and installations lining up the sidewalks, skywalks, and open public spaces in the area. Day or night, these, we hope, should draw larger crowds, despite the heat and humidity at this time of year, and photo snaps from both locals and tourists than the Christmas trees and decorations the area has been famous for. In the late afternoons on the skywalk linking Siam Paragon and Central World, pedestrians will be entertained by pantomime, clown, magic, and B-Boy performances.
Another fun highlight in the evenings is “Cine-Bananas” or the outdoors screening of films, mostly Thai and some dubbed live in Nang Khai Ya style, at
A hundred meters away at Parc Paragon, adjacent to Siam Paragon, is the stage for contemporary performance. Curated by Patravadi “Kru Lek” Mejudhon, this showcases both new and revival dance and theatre works, both full-lengths and excerpts. Each evening’s program is clearly grouped and themed—there is one evening for puppet lovers and another for fans of dance theatre works based on Tipitaka, for example. It is also here where the public can watch works by Silpathorn Award dance and theatre artists, like Manop Meejamrat, Pichet Klunchun, and Nimit Pipitkul.
A little further away in front of Central World Plaza is the music stage, to be shared by classical Thai ensembles who have been able to connect to contemporary audiences like Fong Naam and Korphai, and indy favorites like Apartment Khun Pa, Flure, and Teddy Ska.
In addition, workshops and demonstrations in various disciplines of contemporary arts are available both at the BACC and Parc Paragon. This small yet commendable part, rarely seen in other festivals here in
It is also noteworthy here that although it supervises over nine disciplines of contemporary arts, OCAC has been continually criticized for having pouring more support, and budget, into one field—visual arts—than the eight others. Even though OCAC, not withstanding their strictly limited budget, has year-round partially supported arts and cultural events as well as contemporary artists, they usually are in the spotlight at the annual ceremony for Silpathorn Award artists, and once every two years as Thai visual artists showcase their works at the Venice Biennale. Apparently, “Bangkok Bananas”, most parts of which seem to show the ongoing interactions between the traditional and the modern Thai arts as well as their relevancy in our life, hopes to turn the table and prove differently.
Another good news is that all events are free-admission, thanks to OCAC’s annual budget, or our tax money. Not-so-good news is that we do not know whether the organizer has prepared for the rain, although, given the free-admission nature, we have a hunch what will happen. Of course, we know by now what to do when a few taxis block Rama I Road in front of the nearby Royal Thai Police headquarters.
Another reservation, or a cautionary note, is that holding an outdoors event may result in the high number of public attendance, and that seems to serve the purpose of promoting the arts, equally for all. It is not easily so, especially in the case of dance and theatre. If some of these audiences still do not regularly go to the venues where these artists perform, or do not even know where they are, then the true outcome may not be as promising as the number. Also, the outdoors nature of the event has already prevented most dance and theatre groups from participating in the festival.
In a relevant anecdote, I recently found out that Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, like
Finally, let’s keep our fingers crossed—and our yellow (despite it being the festival’s theme color), red, or blue shirts locked tight in the wardrobes—, and hope, or even pray, that “Bangkok Bananas” will proceed as planned, and continue on into the future as an annual event, not just a once-off like many critics have already predicted. Then, our simple job is to show up and enjoy the city’s largest display of contemporary arts and culture.
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written by Pawit Mahasarinand
published in The Nation on Saturday, April 18, 2009
photo courtesy of Patravadi Theatre
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