Capturing lives and times of Indian diaspora in Thailand

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Khaek Pai Krai Mai exhibition highlight: A 30-metre-long mural capturing the history of Indian diaspora in Thailand
By Asia Samachar Team THAILAND |

This is the last week to catch an exhibition on the lives and times of Thailand’s diverse Indian diaspora.

Called Khaek Pai Krai Mai, the exhibition which ends Sunday (Jan 19), is unique. For the first time, the Thai public is able to see a survey of the Thai-Indian cultural exchange, migration and community life.

It is the result of Navin Rawanchaikul, an artist who hails from Chiang Mai, who has spent much of his career exploring the ancestral roots of his family which lies in Hindu-Punjabi communities of present-day Pakistan.

Marking the latest chapter of this ongoing inquiry, Khaek Pai Krai Ma began life in early 2017 when the artist and his crew set about traveling to the various regions of Thailand in search of Indians and Thai people of Indian origin, according to a statement on the exhibition.

These trips yielded over 500 hours of video footage as well as thousands of images that capture the collective memories of the communities whose ancestors have migrated from India over the generations.

The multifaceted exhibition resulting from this ambitious blend of firsthand testimony, sociohistorical research and skilled art-making is being presented at Bangkok’s Warehouse 30.

The venue is a story in itself. Located near the Chao Phraya River along Charoenkrung Road, the area at one time was full of Indian workers who were part of the shipping industry.

Historically, the Charoenkrung area was one of the first foreign settlements in Siam where many Indian migrants began their life in Thailand working in the shipping industry, among other trades.

The project’s Thai title deliberates some of the present-day tension negotiated by Indians in Thailand.

While ‘khaek pai krai ma’ is a common phrase expressing the welcoming attitude of the Thai people towards all visitors, ‘khaek’ – which literally means ‘guest’ – is what Thais call people of Indian origin and a word often used with derision to imply outsider, according to the statement.

Recalling the artist’s childhood experiences, when he was often teased for being a ‘khaek’, it added that the project celebrates the valuable role these ‘guests’ have played – and continue to play – in Thai culture and society.

The exhibition’s centerpiece will be a 30-meter-long mural that integrates Navin’s journey and the communities he encountered on it into the larger picture of the history of Indian diaspora in Thailand.

Created over a year by a Navin Production team made up of researchers, designers and skillful painters, the huge polyptych comprised of over 300 interlocking canvases presented alongside a letter penned by the artist and an Indian-Thai movie billboard-style painting, both retelling his recent travels in different forms.

Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn visited the exhibition last week.

ROYAL VISIT: Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn visiting Khaek Pai Krai Mai exhibition

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Sikhs in Thailand: Retrospect and Prospect (Asia Samachar, 6 Nov 2018)

ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: editor@asiasamachar.com | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |

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