This is the first in a six part series featuring interviews with Thai lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activists and allies on their motivations, the issues that concern them most, their views on progress to-date and looking ahead.
Sudaporn Teja, Som, is an abstract artist from Chiang Mai currently working in Bangkok, Thailand. Being an active ally, Som is utilizing her artistic talent to promote political, cultural and social awareness of the fundamental rights of LGBTI persons. She has an upcoming art exhibition entitled Love Gets Better with Time Quietly, opening in June 2018 in Bangkok (for more information, visit: www.sudapornteja.com). The source of inspiration for each piece of her artwork at this exhibition draws from real-life experiences, struggles, love stories and inequality in society shared by LGBTI individuals and activists with whom she has met.
Tell us about how you became involved in LGBTI activism.
Som: It was at my best friend’s funeral where I saw with my own eyes and felt with my own heart how truly beautiful love is regardless of gender. It was so beautiful, his partner stayed by his side and took care of him until his very last day.
LGBTI becomes a central theme because love does not only happen between a man and a woman. There is a lot more to it, to human love. Something beautiful is totally worth depicting and sharing.
“I want the audience to join me in celebrating LGBTI persons and their love. I also want them to be aware that underneath the beautiful surface there are gender inequality issues that need to be addressed.”
What are the overall messages you are trying to convey to your audience?
Som: I want the audience to join me in celebrating LGBTI persons and their love. I also want them to be aware that underneath the beautiful surface there are gender inequality issues that need to be addressed. Visibility and social inclusion can be advanced much further from where they currently are. I hope that my works will help LGBTI communities gain more respect and lead to more legal protections and rights.
Although some pieces capture and represent a very specific gender identity and/or sexual orientation, I hold a belief with confidence that the art display is something anyone regardless of his or her gender can relate to.
The communities have been advocating for so many things. Although progress has not been made on all of the issues, I believe this is a long journey and it will take time but it all will get better. There’s hope and I want to be part of it.
Why is art an effective medium to communicate these sorts of topics?
Som: Art is the language I speak most fluently. It attracts, provokes thoughts and walks the audience through the journey or story it carries. I have long been doing abstract painting to express my deepest thoughts and intense feelings that sometimes cannot be fully described in words. What is it? What does it mean? I want to create a space where people can ponder, I want them to go home and reflect on what they have seen.
What trends have you noticed from speaking with numerous LGBTI persons/activists and telling their stories through art?
Som: Each of them has a different interesting and beautiful story to tell but what they all share in common is a struggle for legal equality. The lack of inclusive legal protection remains one of the top challenges for LGBTI individuals and communities. I talked to them about their works, family and loved ones and we would always end up coming back to the same main topics. It is so frustrating, having to keep asking for something they deserve.
“Visibility is the key. … I am using art as a voice to do that right now and the voice just needs to be louder.”
Explain the process that you go through when creating your art.
Som: First, I had conversations with LGBTI individuals. I listened to their stories and asked a lot of questions to ensure that I understood everything correctly. Then the most significant part of the process is to embed the story onto the canvas. My emotions and perceptions towards love stories and factual information are transformed into colours, art media, charcoal and brushstroke movements in my language of abstract art.
Going forward, what do you feel are the priorities for efforts to promote LGBTI inclusion in Thailand?
Som: Inclusion could not take place effectively unless members of the general public know and understand whom they are including first. Visibility is the key. I’m sure that a lot of people have a lot of questions regarding LGBTI. They actually might not even know what it stands for. I am using art as a voice to do that right now and the voice just needs to be louder.
Being LGBTI in Asia is a regional programme aimed at addressing inequality, violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, and promotes universal access to health and social services. For more information on Being LGBTI in Asia, visit: http://www.asia-pacific.undp.org/content/rbap/en/home/operations/projects/overview/being-lgbt-in-asia/.