Beyond reality: locating the sur-real in Thai photography

Veal, Clare (2018) Beyond reality: locating the sur-real in Thai photography. In: Ambitious alignments: new histories of Southeast Asian Art,1945-1990,. Power Publications and National Gallery Singapore, Singapore. ISBN 978009952921

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Title: Beyond reality: locating the sur-real in Thai photography

The inclusion of Sur (soē เซอร์) reality as one of nine key themes in the 2012 exhibition Thai Trends: From Localism to Internationalism, curated by Apinan Poshyananda อภินันท์ โปษยานนท์ (b. 1956), reinforced the inclusion of 'surrealistic' works as a part of conventional histories of Thai artistic modernism. While the phonetic resonances between Sur and its English counterpart 'surrealism' might suggest European origination, Apinan's framework hinged on the nationalist premise of the uniqueness of Sur within the Thai context. By way of contrast, one may point to the dismissal by the French surrealist André Breton (1896-1966) of the limitations of language and cultural difference as an impediment to his internationalist goal of promoting surrealist practices in 'the four corners of the earth [as] a fairly extensive scheme of resistance and experiment'. In fact, this distinction between Breton's and Apinan's frameworks points to a central problematic of Southeast Asian modern art history: determining the particularities of relationships between exogenous and endogenous artistic discourses and the ideological weight of prioritising one over the other. In this chapter I offer another entry point, one that accounts for the deployment of photographic techniques associated with surrealism in the work of Thai photographers, without deferring to nationalist narratives of cultural exceptionalism or Eurocentric frameworks of belatedness and provincialism. Instead, I am concerned with locating the specific points where Thai Sur and European surrealism intersect and diverge, found here in the resonances between photography and notions of realism. Against the apparent incommensurability between the ease with which Thai artistic institutions accepted Sur and the avant-garde fervour of European surrealism, this approach maintains the relevance of conceptual linkages between the two while also reaffirming their distinctiveness. In doing so, the aim of this enquiry is transformed from an evaluation of how faithfully Sur photographic practices adopted European surrealist techniques and principles, to what the 'sur-real' connoted in a context where the relationship between photography, truth and reality was something quite different. For photography, this is revealed through a discussion of two major functions of Sur. First, as a means to overcome the medium's exclusion from discourses of fine art, and second as a replication of the dharmic vision encountered in photographic icons of highly regarded monks and monarchs.

Subjects: Art History
Art History > Southeast Asian Art
Divisions: Centre for Research in the Arts
Depositing User: Ms Ashalatha Krishnan
Date Deposited: 11 Apr 2021 13:45
Last Modified: 11 Apr 2021 13:45
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