Alice In Isaan Land

Let’s fall down the rabbit hole into the world of Nui Wonderland, an artist from Northeast Thailand. Her acrylic paintings are soft and warm, full of love and playfulness; comfortable domestic scenes brimming with imagination. Her characters are rotund and plump, seemingly light as air. Pastel colors, plush fabrics, and playful animals fill the canvases in a dense jumble alongside expansive patterns inside well-lived homes.

Wonderland, whose real name is Wunnisa Thamanasart, combines Western, Isaan, and Chinese references for a unique style bringing tradition and experimentation together for self-expression. She’s inspired by Alice In Wonderland, Russian contemporary painter Andrey Remnev, and murals on the small Buddhist chapels in her area called sims. The sim murals, which are distinct from those of traditional Siam murals, are full of patterns and blue and yellow colors made from local ingredients. She adds some reds to those colors and imbues the style with a sense of magic that would be at home in a children’s book.

Most of the characters and scenes are inspired by her own life. The girl (both the young one and the older one) are self-portraits at different ages. And the elderly woman is her grandmother, who raised her from childhood. Even the animals are based on her own. “I live in the countryside and grew up with a lot of animals in my backyard,” she laughs. Even the recent Chinese inspiration is due to the influence of her boyfriend, who’s Thai-Chinese. “I’m doing this with the idea that we can all coexist, we just need to learn to adapt.”

The sense of home that exudes from Wonderland’s work was amplified by the COVID lockdowns, and some of her works directly reference that experience of being tucked away from the outside world, with masks and alcohol often scattered about. “‘Home’ is a great word to me,” she says. “Even if we’re fragile or unable to protect ourselves in the face of adversity, having a secure haven to return to can make all the difference.”

But Wonderland balances these depictions of her own life with a playful surrealness, and she sees this as the core of her paintings. Streetlights powered by solar panels and storks appear indoors like it’s entirely normal. Mice play chess with a chicken. To her, fantasy and reality are meant to exist side by side. “I have my own wonderland, which is my artwork,” she says. “It’s a land where I can draw and create anything according to my imagination.”