Thailand-based Mr. Sajja Sajjakul’s metaphor-laden oil paintings are sharp critiques of modern life. Globalization, social injustice, and political tumult are recurring themes throughout his oeuvre, which utilizes a dense, satirical visual language to mourn the demise of traditional culture in Thailand. However, reaching beyond geopolitics, religion, and language, Sajja’s bold canvases touch on the greater human condition and global consciousness.
Growing up in Chumphon province in southern Thailand, Sajja was a teen during the Communist insurgencies that threatened Southeast Asian politics in the years after World War II. The Communist Party of Thailand’s insurrection was quelled in 1982 when the artist was a college student, and it was then that Sajja began to recognize the revolutionary power of the individual in contrast to the totalitarian authority of a government or regime. This dichotomy of internal versus external struggle remains a pervasive presence in Sajja’s paintings in which dystopic chaos threatens to overwhelm cultural memory, locality, and individualism.
Popular and cultural references gleaned from television news, documentaries, and literature populate Sajja’s bustling, large-scale compositions. Allusions to climate change and government brutality exist alongside recurring allegorical figures. Trickster monkeys take on human characteristics, often wearing clothing, wielding guns, or playing instruments. Ominous skeletal figures are cruel displays of power and control, domination and destruction. Simultaneously, radiant elephants in violets and pinks are stalwarts of tradition and resilience. Finally, bells appear frequently as a beacon of freedom and a symbol of hope and perseverance. Pandemonium reverberates through these post-apocalyptic scenes rendering haunting and hellish clashes of good and evil.
Meanwhile, Sajja’s introspective self-portraits depict the artist with large, cumbersome bundles strapped to his head. Amid furls of tassels, ropes, and ribbons lay nestled binoculars, birds, or human faces, each offering an ambiguous glimpse into the artist’s emotional and psychological self. The artist’s pensive expressions lend a sense of solemnity to the works that seem to depict Sajja as a modern day Atlas struggling against the weight of the sky.