Amidst the colors and parades, Pride Month is a celebration of LGBTQIA+ people. It is a month to acknowledge their contribution to society and uphold the values of equality by ensuring their voices are heard in a world that can often be unkind. Strength and perseverance defines the LGBTQIA+ community, whether it’s across the world or here in Thailand.
Naraphat Sakarthornsap is a Thai LGBTQIA+ artist whose work strives to formulate a discourse surrounding the rigidity of gender and sexuality or the inequality within our society. Using flowers as his medium, he creates captivating art pieces that challenge how we view the world around us. Our eyes are drawn to the softness and beauty of the artfully arranged flowers before being faced with the reality of its surroundings, sometimes jarring and sometimes morose in topic.
In honour of Pride Month, PAÑPURI sits down with Naraphat to shine a spotlight on his work and influence in the art world and the LGBTQIA+ community.
What inspired you to start using flowers as a main component of your artistry?
Flowers are something that I have loved since I was young. There are photos of me in my childhood album sniffing rose bushes, wearing sunflower crowns or even one of me with frangipani flowers attached to my cheek. The memories of my childhood are always remembered by the names, colors and scents of flowers. I remember around elementary school, I picked up a variety of flowers, tied them with rubber bands to the top of my head, and then walked around the house like that.
It was that memory that showed me that apart from flowers being something that I simply grew up with, they also were what helped me discover who I am and my sexual identity. For me, flowers are not just flowers. Instead, it is an important medium that helps preserve my childhood memories, while also being an extension of who I am. Society may have tried to limit me, but flowers were the key in giving me the courage to be myself when I was ready.
Who or what inspires you to create?
"Art" is one of the most important processes for me. In my childhood, there were a lot of troubling moments in my life that I know I can’t return to and fix. Whether it's a matter of being asked if I’m gay or not or classmates mocking me just because I like to play with Barbies, these are all childhood memories that have always made me hide my sexuality. I was afraid my friends wouldn’t want to hang out with me anymore. I was afraid that they would use my gender and sexuality in jokes. There was a time when the school counselor even visited my house and tried to inform my parents of my behavior. That represents a lot of the same experiences for LGBTQIA+ individuals. These fears and memories were so tightly held that I had to lie to people all of the time that I wasn't gay until I graduated from university.
So my artwork is my decision to unravel the cruel knots of the past and mold it into something new – in addition to helping me heal my state of mind. It is also an intermediary that makes people with similar experiences to me realize that they do not face this problem alone but while also helping them loosen the past and let go of it at the same time. So if asked what inspires me then it would be "art" that has helped me fight harsh memories of the past and has allowed me to continue my life to this day.
What challenges do you encounter as an LGBTQIA+ artist in Thailand?
During college, I learned that art can create beautiful things. It can also help heal the feelings of the artist. The beginning of my art career started as a way for me to try and accept myself. It is the courage to tell people that I am gay without hiding anything. During the time I worked on the "Gushing out my confession" series, I wanted to reveal my identity to my friends at my new workplace, so I chose to tell one of my seniors at the office who I am. The sad thing was the next morning, that woman shared my story around like some fun piece of gossip and looked at my sexuality like it was something amusing. My state of mind collapsed after that and the process of healing began with this set. It was a year after that I met people I loved, whether it was a close friend or a respected teacher. Working on this photo set allowed me to use art as an intermediary in creating a space for us to come back and meet them – that reunion was felt from the moment I arranged the flowers until that second when I pressed the shutter release. It is a time when I can interact and create conversations together again. I had the opportunity to share my true self with my friends through the art of this set. It made me realize that the challenge for me was to be proud of who I am and accept myself regardless of how society tries to frame the issue of gender and sexuality.
How do you overcome those challenges?
The struggle to accept your true self for me was not an immediate matter. I am one of those people who took 10 years to dare to come out as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Everyone has their own time to tell others who they are and society has no right to urge us to speak on our gender or sexuality, as it is a private matter. The questioning of someone’s sexuality should not happen to anyone. I spent a lot of time creating art from 2015 until now so I could speak up with such confidence as to what sexuality I am. So accepting your true self is what happens when we are really ready to speak and no one should be teased for it. If discrimination is over, one will not question each othe, and I also hope that being yourself will not have to be a challenge to overcome.
What do you hope to achieve with your artwork?
I hope one day the artwork that I create will act as a mediator and clear up questions about gender and sexuality. A day where people can proudly state who they are without society trying to coerce them. A day when people can use the color purple without being mocked about their sexuality and a day when all genders and sexualities have equal rights to live freely.
I want to enable people to be able to be themselves and be proud of that, so there is no need to hide it for ten years as I have.
Follow our instagram as we spend Pride Month speaking with Naraphat.