For his second solo exhibition at the Toot Yung art center, acclaimed contemporary Thai artist Montri Toemsombat builds bridges between his intimate emotions, local beliefs from the Isarn plateau and the increasing danger of modern chemicals used by rice farmers. Montri is famous for using unconventional mediums and materials, often related to Thai roots and culture. Rice, silk worms, earth and fibers are materials you can commonly find in numerous of the artist’s brilliantinstallations. In “Plateau Rouge” Montri confronts painting, photography and performance to communicate his present concept.
The son of a rice farmer, Montri grew up in the countryside of Chaiyaphum, a region of Isarn rich with folk tales and local ghost stories. His father and brother both died during their sleep at an early age. People from the region believe that “Phii Mae Mai”, a female ghost craving men’s souls, causes these premature deaths of men in their sleep. As a protection, the village men dress as women and wear lipstick before going to sleep, and also place phallus shaped talismans around their home to trick the ghost. Inspired by these local rituals, Montri incarnates “Phii Mae Mai” in a series of photos produced during his residency at Toot Yung art center. Subtly revealing subjects such as homosexuality, loneliness and exclusion Montri’s powerful portraits are an eloquent display of his inner feelings and personal memories.
Montri also plays with the aesthetics of the countryside’s DIY ads printed on cheap plastic, promoting the use of modern herbicides and fertilisers such as glyphosate or paraquat. As an allegory, the artist here incarnates a godly figure standing proudly in a healthy green rice field. Montri draws a parallel between the unexplained premature deaths of the farmers and the excessive use of the dangerous chemicals.
Montri’s experimental paintings, made of natural dye from red rice, resemble emotional landscapes. Semi abstract, each painting or set of paintings is linked to the artist’s personal memories, growing up in Isarn. The intense red colour produced from the rice evokes bloodstains, and embodies the latent violence of this underprivileged region. We can also sense strong passion in the stokes, shapes and titles which reveal subjects of sexuality and gender.