Navin Rawanchaikul presented his recent installtion titled Hong Rub Khaek, means Visitors Welcome at the National Museum of Singapore. The installation consists of a living room with video projecting interviews by 7 Indians living in Chiang Mai. Also accompanying that is a large panoramic painting titled Mahakad, a pportrait painting of a boy and letters.
Rawanchaikul is interested in the differences between cultures, particular race in this piece. He interviewed 7 Indians who are living in Chiang Mai. In the interviews, audience could see how these ‘foreigners’ no longer see India as their home but Thailand. Some who were even born there felt strongly for the country despite the differences in their physical look.
Like many of the other works in National Museum of Singapore, this piece also highlighted the presence of outsider in an ‘inside’ environment. Focusing on residential issue, the piece not only speaks about a situation in Chiang Mai but also can be extended into local context. The recent General Election in Singapore had brought up the influx of foreign talents into the country. This piece seemed to resonate very well with the GE which happened concurrently with the biennale.
Interestingly, Rawanchaikul presented his context through a living room. In front of the space dedicated for this piece was also a welcome sign and this placed audiences as ‘visitors’ not only to the biennale but to this specific piece, potentially to be seen as a home. Visitors then questioned the presence of the ‘owner’. Was it the artist, the Indians, or the unknown boy whose portrait was hanging in the room?
The space created a sense of intimacy between these factors and the audiences, whom were not foreign to this issue, especially as members of Singapore community. The portrait too suggested a sense of age and distant, similarly found in an unoccupied houses or collection of old photograph. This heightened the tension between the unknown owner and visitors which could be resolved by listening to the video piece. Understanding of identity, particularly cultural was then the key in absorbing the piece. The portrait was merely an indication of an unknown race, neither Indian nor Thai, or might be both. It summarized the whole idea of nationality and cultural conflict as the installation wanted to bring across.
Another painting is the panoramic large scale work by Rawanchaikul. This landscape portrait depicts a community of Indians living in Chiang Mai. Installed right in front of the entrance door, the piece welcomes visitors but when they were stepping out, the painting becomes the ending. It shows bond between a minority and the diverse forms of humans in it results in a form of acceptance and communal identity.
Lastly is the letter, could be assumed to be hand-written, addressed to another persona called Mari. From the content we could presumed that the boy in the portrait wrote it and again, the idea of intimacy was highlighted once again. Audiences were lured into this realm of getting into a person’s house, living room, and at the same time life. Audiences were foreigners and this unknown individual was the home owner.
This installation brought Singaporeans back to the issue of identity moulded by foreigners who have been based in the country for so long. The personal affinity between audience and the work highlighted an issue which is perceived to be a major one here. The piece was not meant to be didactic but allowed audience to be more approachable to a group of people, whom might have lost their initial patriotic belief in their origin but have grew fond of a new place, called home.