Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Revisiting the Jim Thompson Era. . .

and immersing oneself in the intrigue of the years immediately after World War II and indeed a rather tumultuous time in Thailand's political, cultural and artistic landscape through a selection of headlines from the Bangkok Post, old footage, a movie (House on the Klong) and a fantasy bazaar in 2010, is only possible at the home of the man himself. Jim Thompson disappeared in 1968 but his legacy lives on. I had a personal tour by the expert of the subject and supreme curator P'Jeab or Grithiya Gaweewong herself, after hours.

She walked me through the carefully curated headlines that adorn the walls, sometimes with footage and sound clips from the National Film Archive creating a collage with moving images and sound taking you back into time . . . here are some of my faves . . . though the Twist is light, the context is much gloomier.

The never ending battles today with censorship, freedom of expression, double standards and a whole lot of other issues.
Sean Connery's visit in 1966 was not a secret (love this pic)

To journey back to the 50's and 60's is to witness the fact that Jim Thompson got his hands into everything, a renaissance man by any standard, even the most cynical and he truly immersed his own self with passion and unrelentless energy in his various endeavours, the perpetual host who could not "bear to be alone" and he obviously had great taste. His disappareance haunts people to this day, though the old movie from 8 years after his disappearance shed some light on his story, the man himself and the mystery. It was spooky and give me goosebumps at sevaral moments, defo film noir influence and talk about not holding back on the Hitchcock moments with that music. My first question after the film faded into black was "What happened???" P'Jeab told me to read the book . . .and I will read it, we all like a bit of intrigue but his is different, he became famous, infamous and along with him so did Thai silk (though silk is just the surface and the beginning, his legacy goes beyond that, and might I add that Thailand is not just about silk and beauty, it is far more complex). A true insider, and if Jim was still alive today, he would be 104.

Michael Shaowanasai's Bazaar, his homage to the era that combines his own methods, energy and vibrancy to the hope after the War, where after destruction there was creation and a power struggle of which we, as country was smack in the middle of, mere witness, victim or beneficiary depends on what side you are on.

New ideas, new horizons, the Dior New Look, Space, the red scare and the cold war. The items on sale unde the label Oriental Silk Sewcity (or OSS - the organisation Jim Thompson belonged to during war time, the precursor to the CIA) Nagara's couture creations sitting a long side these remnants of a time-past reinterpreted, at one level kitsch and fun, at another making a statement regarding the past, and what it took for us to arrive to where we are today. Though one does have to wonder. . . what much has changed, especially as plans for our new airport were announced in 1962 (this is a news clipping on the wall).

Then again, all was informed by context and references, there needed to be a new look after the war, the old order had been destroyed, is it possible for us to thrive ignoring what is around us?

The homage to him and his era sheds light on what we are today and begs the question as to how and why are we still trying to answer the same questions and are still in the dark.

A worthwhile visit that deserves some time to get to know a lost legend and the context in which he lived and our country and her politics, the latter something, which we cannot seem to escape from too far today and which if we look closely, is more relevant than ever.

Revisiting the Jim Thompson Era
will be at the Jim Thompson Art Centre until January 15th, 2011.
The Centre is open from 9 am - 5 pm every day.

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