A Song For Diversity

Walking down the quiet, narrow strip of Song Wat Road, nestled closely along Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River, with its aging buildings and broad storefronts, you get a deep sense of history. Over a hundred years ago, the street was built at the southern edge of Chinatown as a port for international trade, and much of it has been preserved. The mix of cultures makes it unique in its various places of worship, featuring a Thai Buddhist temple, a Chinese Taoist shrine, and a mosque all situated along its quiet edges.

Chiang Rai’s Warunyoo Somboon decided to celebrate this diversity with a trypitch series as part of Play Art House’s Roa-Wat exhibit, which asked artists to create works revolving around the historic street it calls home. His paintings, all based on actual photographs, depict each place of worship in a playful manner, full of cheery worshipers and guests, with border designs based on patterns unique to their individual beliefs or religion. “It’s great how all these different religions can coexist in harmony next to each other in this old town,” he says. “This created a unique identity for the area.”

The Lao Pun Tao Kong shrine—by far the most detailed of all three paintings—gets wrapped in lattice and a looping floral pattern, and is populated with little kids taking pics, caretakers sweeping, and a cat lounging in the sun. Its walls are full of murals depicting folktales and the roof is covered by mythological creatures offering protection, luck, and wisdom.

Painted in soft lilacs and rich pinks, the Pathum Kongkaram Ratchaworawihan temple is bordered by traditional Thai leaf patterns, which are repeated above its entrances. Viewers can get a peek inside at a golden Buddha in emperor’s robes in the main prayer room and a mural off to the side. Tourists browse about with cameras in tow while a cat plays with a broom and a worshiper bows in front of a monk.

The Kocha Isahak Royal mosque is more reserved than the rest, with its Western-style architecture and daffodil-colored walls. The worshipers, all men with different skin colors, converse with each other and peek out windows in taqiyah skullcaps and bare feet. (No cats in this one, sorry.)

Somboon’s earlier work revolves around Buddhism, since he’s Buddhist himself, and often features intricately detailed sal trees, which are what Buddha is believed to have been born under. “My favorite type of work relates to nature, plants, and animals—it’s what motivated me to become an artist.” He paints in a style inspired by traditional Thai paintings that he’s tailored in his own way. The deep level of intricacy holds its own appeal: “I think it really shows the artist’s motivation, and I’m always impressed by similar work by other artists. The orderliness in Thai patterns reveals the patience, dedication, and talent of an artist.”