KINGDOM OF AFFECTION
By Maggie Padlewska
Unlike popular belief, artist Khun Somchai is not dead, he’s still living on a tiny island in Thailand and continuing
to produce his provocative artwork.
- Caution: Sexually Suggestive Content -
KOH MAK/2019 - One of Thailand’s most beautiful, calm and serene islands, inhabited by fewer than a 500 people, is also home to the provocative work of artist, Khun Somchai; a man who, unlike popular belief (and several of the few references and articles published about him and his work online), did not pass away and is, therefore, still very much alive!
“I don’t think of what others may think. My artwork is my passion.”
The first and most impressive aspect of meeting and speaking with the self-taught artist in his garden of sexually suggestive (some would say raunchy) female statues is his modest, gentle and kind demeanour. He’s soft spoken, reclusive, yet very welcoming. But most striking of all perhaps, is his honest, genuine and unapologetic approach to life - one that is unaffected by the opinions of others, external influences or the need for validation of any kind.
Other than some occasional work at a rubber tree plantation to sustain himself financially, the 62 year-old has chosen a life of solitude. He hasn’t spoken to his family in Myanmar since he left 35 years ago, and doesn’t want a life partner - whereas in his own unique little world, he’s got plenty.
His bigger than life-size concrete statues, mostly of slender and voluptuous women, are not only beautiful and incredibly seductive - they’re also highly erotic.
Their faces capture the essence of feminine beauty, innocence, intelligence, pride and power; their bodies tell a tale of submissive but eager seduction, and their exaggerated vaginas (yes, you can’t miss them), often painted red and plump, remain widely open to interpretation (no pun intended).
Referred to as “The Kingdom of Somchai’s Affections”, the artist has created a garden shrouded in mystery.
Is this the work of a man who admires, respects and loves women - who has devoted himself to honouring the female body through his art? Or, a sexually-obsessed pervert who created his own garden of physical porn?
All female statues are topless - most them naked. Several, have their hands joined together above their chests in the gracious and customary wai (the prayer-like gesture common in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia), some have been created to hold random objects (on this day - beer bottles and toiletries), while others have been molded to grip some knee height object or, lower down (on the ground), with their derrieres opening up the heavens (you get the idea…).
“I started creating my statues when I moved to this island looking for work. I was never taught…I lived alone, it started as a hobby” says Somchai. Today, there are about 100, or more, of his statues scattered around this tiny island. But he doesn’t know how many for sure - he lost count of them a long time ago.
In fact, upon arrival here on this beautiful island, two of Somchai’s female statues stand tall alongside the road leading into town from Koh Mak’s main pier. The difference between those two, and the ones in his personal paradise at home, is that they’re clothed - not through Somchai’s work however, but because of the fabric dresses that have been draped over their impressive figures…indicative, most likely, of the socially controversial nature of his artwork.
Whether Somchai’s statues are appreciated for their raw and genuine depiction of the alluring form of female beauty, seduction and sexuality, or bashed for degrading and disrespecting women in a blunt form - is of course up to each individual to decide.
And that’s exactly how it should be says Somchai. “I don’t know how my work is received by others, I do it for me - simply because I adore the female body.”
Given his solitary life, openness and the friendly nature of our conversation, I couldn’t hesitate to ask the obvious: “When was the last time, Mr. Somchai, that you’ve seen a naked woman in person?”
“I never have” he replied.
My jaw dropped.
Thinking for a moment that the hands of the man capable of molding and creating the curves of these delicate and powerful concrete beauties must have ran those same fingers on the human form (clearly the most authentic source of inspiration for his beloved subject), I re-asked the question, and obtained the same answer as he chuckled at my astonishment.
“I’ve seen pictures, and a few videos a long time ago” he says.
But as our conversation continued, Somchai did later admit to sleeping with a lady as a young man in Myanmar - but insists he hasn’t seen the naked body of a woman since.
Despite his obvious obsession and love for women, Somchai says he doesn't want a lover or a relationship with a woman, or anyone. “I left my home and my family a long time ago. I chose, and choose to be alone because it allows me to create…to focus on my art and passion.”
As surprising as some of his answers may have been to me initially, I did come to understand Somchai. He truly is at peace in life, doing what he loves, living simply, one day at time…not expecting anything - from anyone.
He doesn’t sell his art and works as a labourer to earn just enough money to get by, and to purchase the concrete, paint and some basic materials needed to create his statues.
One female statue costs about 600 baht (that’s about twenty US dollars) in concrete, and takes about a week to create. And that’s what he does - it’s as simple as that.
When asked about his vision, artistic intensions or message, Somchai simply smiles and says - he has none. There’s no elaborate or profound meaning to be connected to his work other than “freedom” he says; the freedom to create ones own universe and individual life…which in Somchai’s personal paradise is achieved through solitude and an unobstructed fulfilment of his creative needs and passion.
“You need to be alone, unaffected by the opinions others, to create freely” he adds.
As grotesque and offensive as Somchai’s vaginas may be to some, I leave his workshop and erotic kingdom inspired by a man who has truly embraced an authentically free existence - living simply in the moment, unhindered by thoughts other than those that exist in his very own mind.
“I hope my work will live long after I die” he concludes.
In the meantime, Somchai lives on in what truly is - his own, earthly, paradise.