“Hello. Would you like to help us in answering some questions?”
Since I had just entered the building and wouldn’t mind a breather from all the walking, I said “yes” to the two eager girls with their notes already in hand.
Hana and Pim, students of nearby Chulalangkorn University, were tasked to interview foreigners on cultural observations between Thailand and the foreigners’ own country.
After introducing myself as Malaysian, Hana sprang a surprised look and told me she had a short studying stint at University Malaya in Kuala Lumpur.
It was my turn to spring a surprised look when she explained all that in excellent colloquial Malay i.e. “bahasa pasar.”
This chance encounter turned out to be the best way to start my visit to Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BACC).
Round & Round
At first glance, the building looks unassuming. The staunchly cylindrical shape and white-washed exterior reminds me of a government ministry than a community art space.
The inside tells a different story.
The center is defined by a circular atrium allowing you to view the goings-on from the ground level up to the 5th floor. Each floor then hosts its own cafes, galleries, independent shops and pop-up bazaars.
This sort of panorama makes it a good place to people-watch.
I started my self-made tour by roaming around the corridors randomly checking out the booths and stores. I was hoping to get a couple of books to get a bit of an insight on Bangkok’s indie scene but sadly none of them were published in English.
(I) P ROX IMITY
After the fruitful chat with Hana & Pim, I decided to make my way up to the revolving exhibits. They are housed in spacious galleries connected by a long spiral walkway à la New York’s Guggenheim Museum.
The first exhibition, P ROX IMITY, is an art collaboration between Thailand and Poland. It explores cross-cultural differences with a universal message through unconventional issues. Although the installations are thought provoking, I find it quite hard to peel away the layers in order to find the meaning behind each piece.
However, it’s a great way to expose Eastern European contemporary art, which can be quite alien to this part of the world, to the people of a South East Asian metropolis. I find it refreshing that two unlikely countries could work together on a small project that brings a big impact to their people’s view of other “non-dominant” global cultures.
The second exhibition is PAUSE, a gathering of South East Asian talents to tell stories through their lenses. It was billed as a photography showcase but the artists were given free reign to express their tales.
I was threading on familiar grounds. The regional focus of this gallery made it more relatable to me as the artworks tackled a wide range of topics from the remnants of colonialism (snapshots of abandoned French bungalows at the Cambodian seaside town of Sihanoukville) to wanderlust adventure (a Lao village boy and his water buffalo traveling the world).
Even a Malaysian managed to sneak-in some nostalgia when his exhibit space was filled with colorful round floor mats that was quite ubiquitous when I was small and seemed to slowly vanish as I grew up. I really enjoyed the diversity of this exhibition not because of its South East Asian flavor but more towards the artists’ creativity in crafting great stories with their art.
Culture Time Capsule
“If you could only take 3 aspects of your own culture to keep in a time capsule, what would they be?”
After I gave my answers to Hana & Pim (which was typically local food, ethnic communities and nature’s beauty), it was their turn to share their thoughts. The first two aspects were similar to my answers but Hana’s final choice caught me by surprise:
The third aspect of my culture that I would like to preserve in a time capsule is our traditional clothes. When I studied in Malaysia, I was surprised to see women wearing baju kurung in college and at the work place.
In Thailand, we would only wear traditional costumes during religious and cultural celebrations. I fear our future generation will slowly forget our heritage and one day, these costumes can only be seen in museums and galleries.
Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to appreciate your own culture because when you’re “living it,” you tend to take things for granted. This observation also has to do with the identity struggle of developing South East Asian countries – there’s a desire to embrace Western culture without compromising on long-held Eastern values.
I spent about two hours at BACC and was exposed to a different side of Bangkok. Away from the temples and markets is a young and vibrant art scene with a global outlook. It’s a community that dares to explore uncharted waters with far-flung nations yet feels at home with its close neighbors.
In a desert of consumerism, BACC is a refreshing oasis to quench your thirst for culture.
- BACC is located in the heart of the Siam shopping district at Pa Tum Wan Junction. It is accessible by BTS Skytrains National Stadium (Silom Line) or Siam (Sukhumvit Line).
- BACC is open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 pm. For more information on current exhibitions and events, visit their official website here.
- To access the upper level galleries (7th – 9th floors), you are required to register on the 5th floor and store your bags in a locker for free.