There is a contentment of life for a famous Thai artist, Rattanachai Chaiyarattana. His father was a school art teacher in Narathiwat
Province in the South of Thailand. When Rattanachai was very young, he studied and was also very close to the culture and way of life of Muslim Malayu People in that province.
Folk music from the South of Thailand is mainly from Thai local musicians, Malayu musicians and some influences from Indian culture. Later, Rattanachai’s father moved to
Songkla Province and changed his job to teach the Nang Talung (Shadow play).
Nang Talung is a traditional performance from the South of Thailand. A large piece of white cloth is used as the screen. Lights are
projected on the screen where the performers hide behind it. There is only one performer who controls multiple character sheets and uses his or her own voice to narrate the
story. The talking and chanting verses used in the play are Thai southern dialect. In the past, Nang Talung was popular because at that time there was no electricity. It was a
satire of Thai society and political situations.
Apart from narration, musical instruments such as guitar, violin and organ are used in the show as well to provide more
entertainment. The whole character sheets are made of leather. These depict comedians, hermits, male and female villagers and
young kids. There are also some notable characters from Ramakian literature. It mainly depends on the wit and humor of
the performer to make the show enjoyable during the night. At the present, this kind of show has become expensive to watch but everyone still loves it.
Living with art every day motivated Rattanachai to learn art by enrolling in the art department of Chang Sin College. After his
graduation, he continued his Bachelor’s degree education in Science (Medical Illustration) at Mahidol University. Later, he
was an anatomy lecturer for the faculty of medicine at Prince of Songkla University, Hat Yai Campus.
Learning anatomy gave him a solid foundation and experience to draw realistic human figures. He also includes the culture of
Thai Muslim people in his paintings. It can be said that his works are mixed- media. Most of his drawings are about traditions,
cultures, religions and art from the south of Thailand, such as Manora dancing or Nang Talung. His personal theme involves the darkness of night.
Manora is an important dancing performance from the South of Thailand. It reflects philosophy, belief, ceremony and the
community’s way of life in building relationships among people. The word “Nora” is a specific term that can be used for both male
and female performers. It is thought that Manora dancing came to the South of Thailand during the period of Sriwichai Empire
and Tamponling Empire (Nakorn Si Thammarat Province in the present).
Here is an interview with Rattanachai
JY: I can see that you have received so many awards since you
were young. In 1985 you received an “Excellent Award” from the Youth Art Contest and from then on you have participated in
several art competitions and won almost all of them. Could you tell me what is inspiration for your work?
RC: I used to follow my father to see Nang Talung. At that time my father was the performer. The show came quite late at night
so I was asleep. When I woke up, I saw the light on the screen. I could see character sheets, a performer behind the screen and
musicians. For me it was a magnificent sight that I would not forget. In the 60th year Anniversary for Queen Sirikit of
Thailand, there was a big event. “The golden brush art competition”, where artists from around Thailand submitted
their works. The best thing I got from this competitionwas an audience with Princess Sirindhorn and 100,000 Baht as the
third prize winner. Afterwards I focused my concept on the dark theme and I received several awards at a national level. For
almost 10 years I was an anatomy lecturer at Prince of Songkla University before I quit my job in 1999 to work at what I
loved—as a full-time independent artist. Works I have created during this time are mostly realistic paintings that portray the
darkness of night and they are paintings of local traditions, culture, religion and art of the south of Thailand. I prefer to
draw paintings of Nang Talung, Manora dancing and the ways of religions.
JY: How do you feel about art in the South of Thailand?
RC: I think that art in the South of Thailand has improved so much compared to the past. There are many popular art
institutes and country-class artists who provide advice and guidance for the new generations of artists. All forms and
techniques have improved constantly over the years and various kinds of mixed-media art have developed. For myself, I still
preserve some of my personal identity and preferences but I like to experiment with different mixed-media techniques.
JY: What about the help and collaboration among artists from different regions of Thailand?
RC: Many artists throughout Thailand come together for certain
projects such as “Bring peace to South of Thailand”. I know some northern artists well, such as Pichit Paidan and Kriengkrai
Mueangmul. We used to work together because I was born in the lower South of Thailand. As I said before, I received a Youth
artist award and I joined in various competitions hosted by banks such as the Bualuang Art competition (Krungthep Bank),
Kasikorn Bank, Krung Thai Bank, the White Elephant artist competition and many art exhibitions to honor the King Bhumibhol, Queen Sirikit and Princess Sirindhorn.
In all, I received over 10 honorary awards from 1985 – 2015.