Friday, August 22, 2008

A cultural heritage


A cultural heritage

Winai Prabripu has set up a gallery in his home which has become very popular, particularly with children, writes Naowarat Suksamran in Nan

Aprivately-owned art gallery has started a new awareness of works of art deeply rooted in the northern Lanna tradition.

The Nan Riverside Art Gallery gives local people, particularly children, exposure to contemporary works by various famous artists from across the country.

Visitors also get the opportunity to gain an appreciation of the work of local artists from the province.

Winai Prabripu, a well known artist from Nan, spent his own money setting up the gallery, which also serves as his studio and his house.

Opened to the public in April, 2004, the art gallery is on the banks of the Nan river in Muang district and there is accommodation on the premises for those organising exhibitions there.

The gallery also boasts reproductions of the newly-discovered old murals in the main chapels of the famous Wat Nong Bua in Tha Wang Pha district and Wat Phumin in Muang district.

According to arts experts, the murals are the oldest ever discovered in the province.

Efforts are now underway to preserve and study the murals, which contain a treasure trove of knowledge.

It is said the murals were created by Nan Buaphan, an ethnic Tai Lue artist in Nan, who lived more than 100 years ago.

The murals at Wat Nong Bua are believed to have been painted between 1867 and 1888 and the murals at Wat Phumin were painted between 1900 and 1903.

"Whispering" is one of the famous murals at Wat Phumin. The murals depict a collection of tales from the previous lives of the Lord Buddha, which are known as Chadok..

The paintings also provide an insight into the cultural life of people in Nan province in the old days.

Mr Winai has conducted extensive research into the old murals at the two temples and has written many articles about them and the artists who created them.

Mr Winai spent 25 years immersing himself in the art scene in Bangkok and visiting famous galleries in Europe and the US before settling down in his home province.

"Even though I am a native of Nan, there are a lot of things about the province I am not aware of," he said.

"I have returned to my home province and set up the art gallery as a local learning centre.

"Also, I can devote myself more to studying the history of ancient artists here," the 54-year-old artist added.

Government agencies have tried to help promote the gallery as a tourist attraction and many tour companies have now included the gallery in their itineraries.

Mr Winai said the gallery is not solely for commercial purposes. His gallery is mainly a place where the public and artists are brought closer together.

Activities such as art camps are regularly organised in the gallery grounds so children can express themselves through art and painting.

Mr Winai is now trying to link up with other groups of artists in the North and artists from the Fine Arts Department to establish a strong network of local artists.

The proudest moment for Mr Winai came when Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn recently visited his gallery.

Mr Winai said the princess spent a long time touring the gallery, carefully studying each work of art on display there.

The princess also painted some pictures of the scenery nearby and gave her permission for her paintings to be hung on the gallery walls.

Sitthituch Thitikul-kasemsak, another local artist in Nan, agrees that the gallery stimulates children's interest in the arts and enhances a sense of belonging for the young people from Nan.

They always raise thought-provoking questions, such as what determines the value of paintings, said Mr Sitthituch.

Authorities have also lent their support by putting up roadside signposts directing people to the gallery.

Mr Winai's gallery has now inspired other like-minded artists to consider turning their house into galleries and opening them to the public, Mr Sitthituch said.

"Some of them are teaching arts at their houses, which draws in a lot of children," Mr Sitthituch said.

He hopes the gallery and the arts-related activities will help make locals proud of the cultural identity of their home province.

More new artists would add vibrancy and colour to the emerging art scene of the North, which has a long history.

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