Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Kingdom of Siam

Currently at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is the exhibition- THE KINGDOM OF SIAM: THE ART OF CENTRAL THAILAND, 1350-1800

The Kingdom of Siam

The exhibition is the first to focus on art from Thailand’s lost kingdom of Ayutthaya, and the first exhibition of classical art from Thailand shown in the United States in more than thirty years. This exhibition is rich in spiritual and artistic inspiration.
The works are exhibited in chronological order, and according to the curators (classical Thai art authority Dr. Forrest McGill, the Asian Art Museum’s Chief Curator and Wattis Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art and M. L. Pattaratorn Chirapravati, Assistant Professor of Asian Art, California State University, Sacramento): three major themes are explored: the development of a distinct national culture; cosmopolitanism and the importance of trade; and art as an instrument of royal power.

On the day I visited, the galleries housing the traveling exhibition were crowded, yet hushed. Two Thai monks gazed reverently at the objects on display. The saffron color of their robes added a taste of Siam to the grey San Francisco afternoon.

asian art museum

More than neighboring kingdoms, including perpetual rival Burma, Ayutthaya was cosmopolitan and outward–looking. The 1600s and early 1700s were a period of great prosperity and cultural accomplishment, but in 1767 Burmese armies destroyed the capital. These conflicts were dramatized in the recent Thai blockbuster- "Suriyothai", which can be described as a sort of Thai "Gone With the Wind". The human suffering was great, and the loss of artworks and records incalculable. As one peers into the open cavity in the huge Buddha head in the lobby, its original sculpted flame crown torn off by time or battle, the costs of this warfare become clear. In our present era, with forces battling over territory and ideology in Iraq, the calm, internal gaze of the one who became awake provides hope for an alternate path.

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