Is This Really Art?
Or is this a Perverse Man’s Wet Dream put on Display?
I’ve been touring Thailand’s Koh Chang islands these past two weeks, popping from island to island and checking out all there is to see. My first stop was on the island of Koh Mak — a peaceful, tranquil and gorgeous spot where everyone seems to be perpetually happy and no one is looking to scam you out of your last dollar like Bangkok.
It’s also a very open and liberal environment, and this was further punctuated by an accidental discovery I made as I motorbiked across the fourteen square-kilometer island and back. Ready for it?
Quite the depiction of female beauty, isn’t it? *wipes brow*
After I visited this place I did a bit of reading on it, and realized quickly that other blogs have gotten this place all wrong.
It is aptly named “The Kingdom of Somchai’s Affection”, and all of the sculptures were molded by none other than Khun Somchai himself.
Somchai is a Koh Mak local from the ‘Mon’ community that has lived on the island for decades. He built his Kingdom before the tourists arrived, so one can assume that it was built for him and not for the droves of people that have visited this place since Koh Mak became a readily welcome travel destination.
His work features exaggerated portrayals of female genitalia and breasts, and he’s even thrown in a few half-animal/half-woman sculptures into the mix. The most interesting thing, however, is how the Kingdom is built into the surrounding landscape, as the forests of Koh Mak encroach all around it, threatening to swallow it all up. My first thought was, “wow, this must take a lot of work to keep nature at bay and make this accessible for the public.” And then I remembered that Somchai was no longer around, and it peaked my curiosity.
“Who the hell is providing the upkeep for his work?”
It’s a deeply personal and provocative sexual playground of affection, and I don’t imagine the monks and locals would have jumped at the chance to take it over. Especially because it costs nothing to visit and there is no profit to be had, though I did notice a tip jar being cradled by one of the lewd women, and threw in twenty baht to show my thanks.
But that’s the one thing that most people have gotten wrong: the current status of the vagina-molding Thai man. All the blogs that I’ve read have said this man is dead, and after talking to a few locals, even THEY think he’s dead. Well I’m here to tell you that he’s not:
On a second trip to the Kingdom of Somchai’s Affection, where I planned to take a few more pictures for this write-up, I actually met Khun Somchai on site while he was feeding his chickens and tending to his garden.
After taking a few photos of several sculptures that I missed on the first go-around, I spoke with him and asked if he was indeed the man who sculpted the pieces. He nodded his head, and then excitedly showed me how he sculpted them by taking me to a few pieces that were falling apart.
It was pretty cool. Inside the sculpture is thick, steel wire used as the “skeleton”, and around it Somchai used concrete (that he mixed himself) to mold these beautifully-crafted, erotic creatures. Afterwards, he painted some of them to give them more character and life, paying special attention to the myriad of vaginas that seem to leap out at you from every corner. All of this he did on his own, on his own time, between his work as a chicken farmer and a worker at the nearby Buddhist Temple.
And the statues are beautiful.
Vaginas and laughter aside, the work is stunning, evoking feelings of unease, tranquility, giddiness and, God help me for saying this, arousal. Somchai seemed to be a friendly enough fellow himself, and I enjoyed our time spent together.
But is his work truly Art? Did this man intend on creating dozens of women, most of them suggestive and fully-splayed, as an art form? I tried asking Somchai, but the language barrier was a bit too vast for us to cross when it came to questions of intention.
But does that even matter?
Art is in the eye of the beholder, and when it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter whether or not Somchai created the Kingdom as his personal real-life wet dream. We all create Art, whether it be writing, painting, music or otherwise, to fulfill a personal fantasy, and if his fantasy is women bent over suggestively, all power to him.
I’m just happy we live in a world where these things can exist and can even be celebrated.
Afterwards, when I asked a few locals about it, many of them blushed and smiled, and then spilled over into laughter. There was no admonishment or scorn over the lewdness of Somchai’s work. In fact, they liked that it was there, and it often served as a springboard into further conversation, where everything after that seemed tame, and the reserved nature of initial conversations often made way for open dialogue and intimate conversation.
Because when you start a conversation by talking about vaginas (and you can both laugh about it), speech becomes relaxed and free-flowing, and some of the best friendships I made on Koh Mak blossomed because of the Kingdom of Somchai’s Affection.
Weird, isn’t it? Somchai’s work brought people together. It helped create friendships that could very well last a lifetime.
And if that isn’t art, then what is?
Thanks for reading!
Check out my blog on Bangkok and follow along as I meander through Thailand and tell the funny, often-intimate stories that will matter to the future traveler.
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