Asian Highway

This collection of paintings and prints focuses on themes of cultural identity and tradition in a developing society; encouraging critique on a romanticised viewpoint of Eastern culture versus the bleak representation of Westernisation.  The work evolved from discussions with Karenni refugees and Thai nationals in the hilltop villages of northern Thailand, near the border of Myanmar. Rumours of an extension of the Asian highway into the North (and as far west as Europe) were spreading excitement and hope among the poor communities who presently survive off the land and from small incomes from make-shift shops along the dirt roads of Ban Nai Soi village.

The highway would connect 32 Asian countries, easing transport of goods and passage for tourism. Naturally, the villagers hoped that the proposed extension – which would traverse directly through the Ban Nai Soi village – would bring increased tourism, trade and financial prosperity. The villagers spoke of opening shops and restaurants and improved employment opportunities and a more secure future for their families.

However, the highway will also irrevocably change the character of the community; their traditional way of life would soon become obsolete. The natural environment destroyed to make way for tarmacked roads, enabling a flow of vehicles to destroy the once peaceful landscape. In time, noise and pollution would replace the starry skies, peace and clean mountain air.

This collection of work seeks to capture the identity and traditions of the Thai and Karenni communities of Ban Nai Soi in the midst of change. Paintings, such as ‘Identity’, seek to convey an eerie sense of loss. Layers of oils and acrylics are stripped away with paint thinners and rags, to represent the stripping away of customs and traditions. The modern media of spray paint is used to reflect new ways of working and faster results – indicative of Western culture. Charcoal is used in the paintings to resonate with the viewer the impermanence of a changing society, giving the work a feeling of being temporary and incomplete.

The prints combine media in similar ways to the paintings – using the traditional methods of dry-point with modernized alternatives, such as collagraph and photopolymer. These images romanticise the culture of the villagers, evoking feelings of nostalgia and an idealistic, peaceful existence, by using pure, simple lines and attention to detail and aesthetics.

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