24 Dec Fantastical Manifestations
Eng | ไทย
at Art Centre Bldg., 3rd floor
26 January – 21 March 2021
SAC Gallery is pleased to present Fantastical Manifestations the inaugural exhibition in Thailand of emerging contemporary printmaker Raj Bunnag (b. 1985, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA). The son of Thai Immigrants, Bunnag is a second generation Thai-American artist from Kensington, Maryland, currently pursuing his MFA at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. As a child, his father shared with him the stories of Thai mythology while drawing images of gaur in the Thai jungle and seven headed dragons. The family would travel to Thailand regularly to visit family, which expanded his understanding of Thai culture and traditions, and was later mixed with his American upbringing to create the chaotic and distinctive aesthetic seen in the work today.
In this series, Bunnag draws inspiration from the grotesque and wondrous images of historical print works by Jacques Callot and Francisco Goya such as The Miseries and Misfortunes of War (1633) and The Disasters of War (1810-1820). Using the process of relief printmaking, the artist creates exceptionally detailed, large scale prints that capture the unfocused and ultimately destructive energy of governmental response to illegal narcotics in the war on drugs. In the spirit of the early masters, the prints offer the same unflinching documentation of the unintended consequences of war: brutality, human suffering, and lost civilian lives.
“The War on Drugs” was a term coined in the early 1970s when the US government initiated a global, organized campaign with the ultimate goal of discouraging the production, distribution, and consumption of psychoactive substances. It has been widely criticized for its ineffectuality and tendency to adversely and disproportionately penalize marginalized and vulnerable populations. It continues to receive an estimated 51 billion US dollars from the United States alone annually.
Each piece in the series features one monstrous embodiment of a drug wreaking havoc on hapless people. By way of example, in Cocaine Hurricanethe monster is a manifestation of Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug lord and narcoterrorist who was the founder and sole leader of the Medellín Cartel. Escobar is credited for single-handedly turning the cocaine trade into the violent and destructive business it is today. The cocaine hurricane itself wears the drug lord’s signature moustache. Across his teeth are inscribed the words plataand plomo: the Spanish words for lead and money. It was the offer given by Escobar to police and politicians who stood in his way, “You can take my money or you can take my bullets.” This brutal and effective technique changed Colombia into the drug rich state, ravaged by violence, that it is today.
The relief prints featured in Fantastical Manifestations are a massive undertaking that involved countless hours of focused drawing, carving, and printing over a period of seven years. The images are first meticulously drawn on to a block of linoleum before the artist painstakingly carves away the negative space using specialized tools. The block is then coated with a thin layer of black ink before a large sheet of acid free paper is placed over top. Both the block and paper are run through a printing press that exerts a heavy, even pressure transferring the image from the block to the paper. As this is done more than once, the artwork is referred to as an original multiple.
Drawing from American, European, Latin and Southeast Asian traditions, Fantastical Manifestations addresses the universal struggle that governments impose while attempting to protect their citizens from themselves. A truly contemporary printmaker, Bunnag weds the historical and the present-day, the universal and the specific, and most poignantly states, “It doesn’t matter who you are… we all have someone, know someone, or lost someone to drugs.”