The Kingdom of Somchai's AffectionKhun Somchai
Koh Mak, Trat 23000, Thailand
About the Artist/Site
In 2011, I traveled to Thailand for a screening of my film Handmade Nation in Bangkok. My hosts, one of whom spoke Thai, were incredible resources of amazing spots and tipped me off to the art environment of self-taught artist Khun Somchai located on a fairly remote island. I would not have been able to get there without their assistance in the complex process of many minivans, taxis, scooters, boats, and guides. I was traveling alone with a flip phone for emergencies, and frequently, no one spoke any English.
The trip started with a four-hour minivan trip from Victory Monument in Bangkok at 6am to the town of Trat where you can catch speed boats to the southern islands. I was heading to stay in a guest house my hosts had recommended on Koh Kood (also spelled Koh Kut – Thai islands frequently have more than one English spelling and can prove to be very confusing when looking on a map) then going to the much smaller island of Koh Mak the next day. Koh Mak is where Somchai built his sculptures prior to the island having any tourism – they were for himself. Although I didn’t meet him and he has reportedly passed away since I visited, the environment is still (seemingly) open to the public.
In Trat I waited at a designated spot in the lobby of a small hotel for a "taxi" (an open-air truck with benches) that took me another 30 minutes to the dock. The speedboat sat about 20 people and made a number of stops at different resorts and islands dropping people off on the way. I was dropped off on a dock and met by another boat with people wearing shirts from Bann Makok, the guest house I had reserved ahead of time. They took me in the much smaller boat up a canal to my guest house right there on the water. I was only on the island for two nights, and the next day I had pre-arranged to take a day trip to Koh Mak to find the sculpture garden.
The next morning I took another small boat to neighboring island Koh Mak, from where, if clear out, you can see Cambodia. From there a driver was waiting to take me to see the work of Somchai, with hesitation. It turns out that not everyone on the island is the biggest fan of Somchai’s overtly sexual sculptures. As a white female tourist traveling alone it proved to be a very awkward exchange between me and my driver, but I was determined since I had traveled so far and he finally agreed. It was an awkward time spent with him but felt safe. His parents came from Cambodia and were the first to have a hotel on the island. He gave me a lot of history and took me to the one-room museum he had started.
The island of Koh Mak is very small, and when I was there, Somchai’s garden wasn’t on maps but since has been pinned and is findable. In what feels like the middle of nowhere, on the side of a road is a marker for the Kingdom with a pathway into the yard. The path is intentionally rounded and difficult to walk on. My guide said it was made this way to make you focus on your steps forward, made as a meditation path. The awkward rounded path eventually turns into a turtle shaped stepping stone leading you into the open air living area of the artist. At the time I visited, the artist was still alive but not home, or at least didn’t come out to say hello.
The majority of Somchai’s overtly sexual sculptures are functional. Many animal sculptures both real and imaginary are also scattered around the property with the focal point being the outdoor eating and lounging area with chairs, counters, and tables – all in the shapes of naked women in suggestive positions. The outdoor bathroom area is surrounded by concrete women holding the artist’s toothbrush, soap, and towel, with a concrete woman shower sculpture that shoots water out of her nipples. There was a wooden house structure that must have been connected to the recreational elements of the property including the karaoke sculpture holding a microphone (My guide said sometimes Somchai would put on loud music and sing karaoke from an unknown location while visitors were on the property.) and the woman holding the seemingly functional satellite dish.
Sign at the entrance reads (in both English and Thai):
The kingdom of Somchai's affection: artist and art to immortal sculpture
With extraordinary ambition and affectionate inspiration, the nude woman sculptures of Somchai- the Mon artist around his domicile reflect his perception about affection in art and individual freedom. Using his own financial resources, these continuous artistic works were created from his own inspiration and profound imagination, without artistic pattern from any renowned school. A number of sculptures in Somchai's kingdom of affection are still there for visitors who come to view them. The artist stated this desire was that "my art still remains though I die."
Narrative: Faythe Levine, 2021
Map & Site Information
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