Hanuman, Mekhala, and a Yaksha are in a pool at a vacation villa. It sounds like the beginning of a joke (and it kind of is) but it’s actually the setting of a recent painting by Thai artist Subannakrit Krikum. The piece shows these mythic figures partying and letting loose, live streaming the night’s debauchery in a traditional mural style. “It’s a liberated space,” he explains of the scene. “It depicts the yearning for happiness, taking a rest from exhausting work and the responsibility we carry. “
Krikum mixes humor, tradition, and social critique together in entertaining and thoughtful ways. The pool villa scene is emblematic of his approach, balancing many subjects at once. It challenges traditional Thai art’s avoidance of portraying anything considered immoral or negative, which can separate it from reality. It highlights inequality by choosing something universally popular but much more accessible for the wealthy. And it’s funny, immediately provoking a smile from all but the most uptight.
Most of Krikum’s work follows a similar approach. In one painting a Bodhisattva stands perched on a tree stump in a typically cloistered Bangkok sidewalk, observing a masked skeleton with a slight smile, with a gold shop pressed up against worker housing in the background. A child monk engulfed in kranok flames plays Mobile Legends below a shelf with his many lucrative gaming and streaming awards. A fat-bellied regal man lays comfortably in bed during a Zoom call, thoroughly surrounded by traditional paintings and patterns as well as numerous devices, with a skyscraper view of the modern, smog-covered Bangkok skyline.
COVID is a regular theme. Krikum often slips in references to it, either subtly, like a discarded mask or test, or as the main focus. One painting is squeezed into the tiny results area of a golden COVID test. He painted it when he was testing himself weekly just to go about daily activities. “We did the test so often someone made a meme that we have unlocked ‘the golden ATK test,'” he laughs. “I wanted to challenge myself to paint there. So I drew a picture of a person being in quarantine after they found out they got COVID, which was super boring.” This may be his smallest painting yet, but his work is generally super small and measured in centimeters. He says this makes people pay closer attention since they need to squint at the details.
He also likes to paint stuff that he personally enjoys. BLACKPINK, cats, sashimi, and bubble tea are all fair game. Anything that puts a smile on his face. “It’s about the little pleasures in people’s daily life,” explains Krikum, who considers himself a Buddhist more interested in reason than superstition. “These act as spiritual anchors for people to keep on living, apart from religion.” One painting features a deity with different snacks and treats in each of his many hands. The traditional Thai ornamentation surrounding the character hides more food varieties, like corn, cabbage, shrimp, and sushi.
Krikum has had an interest in traditional Thai art since childhood and now hopes to expand its reach into modern times and new contexts. He uses its deeply cultivated aesthetics to capture people’s attention and then question their surroundings. “Most of my works are satirical commentaries using dark humor to discuss societal issues, politics, and other problems that Thai art tends to avoid addressing,” he says. “I want Thai art to become a universal language that can be understood by anyone so it can be used to address any current topic or historical event.”