Bangkok – 2013 Sketchwalk Chao Phraya, Community Festival opening

March 2, 2013

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A5 Laloran 180g sketchbook.

I ran two sketchbooks while in Bangkok: a small one for thumbnails and a larger for ‘long pose’ sketching. The smaller one was good for capturing everyday life: tuk-tuk drivers grouped together in Thalon Surawongse in Si Lom; an informal cab rank for motorcycle taxis directly opposite Tawana Hotel in the same street; street vendors hard at work at 8am outside the Bangkok Bank building, again in the same street – all in my “local area” near the Rose Hotel. All big cities are not only similar to each other (and it’s not easy finding things that are unique to cities) but also homogenous; I’m finding it’s worthwhile just sketching in one’s adopted local suburb, immediately adjacent to where one is staying. Know your ‘local’ suburb and you come to know the whole city.

I quickly got used to the fact that the Sketchwalk wasn’t going to be run like a military operation with everyone in the same place at the same time, as per the activity schedule. The schedule was more a “guide”. As it turned out, a mass of people would do one thing and another mass something completely different. It must have been a headache for the organisers, and for the photographers trying to document each activity. It was however enormous fun!

Here’s the opening of a community festival, of which 2013 Sketchwalk Chao Phraya was but a very small part. For several years now, a few suburbs in undeveloped Western Bangkok (no signs in English, no tourists, no international hotels) have been the subject of cultural mapping, heritage studies and community events and consequent rejuvenation and refurbishment of local landmarks. The annual festival has gone from a two-day weekend to a three-month long series of events, honouring the (immigration) past and current diversity, as well as acknowledging religious difference, especially in this post-9/11 world (and closer to home given problems this week in Pattani). It’s great to see community activism translating into improved infrastructure and amenities. And, for me, it was great to see art as something other than aesthetic self-centred navel-gazing, to be instead contributing to the social good. What I love about being in Buddhist countries is how tangible things like compassion, altruism and helping others are; I feel it in Japan and I felt it in Thailand too.

At this street corner there were some speeches by community leaders and festival participants. In the background, I included the tower of the Millenium Hilton hotel by the Chao Phraya river in the far distance – a sly reference to the fact that ‘modern’ Bangkok is quite a way away! It was of course Chinese New Year time, so red everywhere. There was a policeman on foot and another on a motorcycle. Some of us sketched the street vendors in front of us, two young families selling Krispy Kreme-style doughnuts. The whole community was out and about, surprised to see farang in their midst. It was unusual for me because I rarely get to sketch mums with their babies, or rather mums selling food while older sister cares for bub.

It’s amazing what the eye takes in the longer you stand on a strange street corner. You draw the obvious stuff, then more detail comes to light. Asnee used a very flexible fountain pen nib to capture the scene in his architectural dots-and-dashes style. Towards the end I took in the street Public Announcement speakers and even a police CCTV camera.

While a “break-away” group of about a dozen sketchers witnessed this community festival opening, the Main Event was happening for the rest back at Queen Memorial Park. I have no idea what was going on there, but I’m sure they were having as much fun as I was!

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