BANGKOK– Bangkok’s murky Saen Saep canal is usually a workaday channel for riverboats, but recently it has taken on a new identity: art gallery.
As part of Bukruk, the Thai capital’s first international street art festival, buildings and lots have transformed into canvases for 26 Thai and European artists. Their vibrant, large-scale murals stretch from Siam Square to Rama 6 Road, brightening up the commutes of unsuspecting pedestrians and riverboat passengers.
“I love the idea of having art come to people and not the other way around,” said graphic designer Nicholas Dali of Bangkok-based Nemo Studio, which co-organized the festival along with edgy Toot Yung Gallery and noncommercial art space BKK Arthouse. “There is a real interaction between the place, the audience, and the artist, which makes street art a very unique form.”
Bukruk means “invasion” in Thai, and when applied to the festival, it carries multiple meanings. For instance, while the event has enabled artworks to penetrate Bangkok’s urban environment, the city has seeped into many of the works by visiting artists. Take Akacorleone from Lisbon, who turned a trash-strewn compound wall in the city’s Ratchathewi district into a gold-and-black mural inspired by the “Ramakhien,” Thailand’s national epic. Zurich-based TIKA painted four tall pillars outside the Bangkok Art and Culture Center with tigers, mystical half-serpent nagas, and Ganesh, the elephant-headed god.
“I’ve invaded Bangkok,” said Madrid-based artist SAN, “but Bangkok invaded me, too.” His mural depicted a group of young men with headgear that included a classical Thai mask.
The event was a year in the making. Bow Wasinondh, co-director of BKK Arthouse, went door to door for months procuring permission to paint from building owners and businesses.
“We had a very hard time convincing sponsors,” said Toot Yung Gallery director Myrtille Tibayrenc. “We almost had to cancel it.”
In the end, a handful of corporate sponsors and the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre supported the festival, along with several European embassies and the European Union National Institutes for Culture. The organizers say they are considering a second edition of the festival, perhaps next year.
There wasn’t much reticence among Bangkokians, however. The festival kicked off with an all-day party, and in the following days, even the uninitiated took an interest. Amandine Urruty, a Toulouse-based artist, said onlookers came over to ask questions and even buy drinks for her and her boyfriend Nicolas Barrome while they painted a building façade with a 10-meter-high mural.
“One of the Bukruk organizers told us that the day after we finished the mural, he took a moto-taxi [whose driver] intentionally made a detour to show him our painting,” Ms. Urruty said.
Meanwhile Thai artists, used to having their work seen more as vandalism than art, have made the most of the opportunities afforded to them by the festival.
“I got to use a crane to paint a wall of a building for the first time in my life,” said Pharuephon Mukdasanit, a graphic designer better known by the tag MAMAFAKA. “It’s usually more of a struggle.”
Bukruk runs through March 17 at the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre and around Bangkok; bukruk.com