Thailand, China, and the UK mark the 60th birthday of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn with cultural events throughout the year
Encouraged by her "Supreme Artist" father, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is an accomplished photographer, artist, author, composer and musician. And when the "People's Princess" is not busy carrying out her royal duties, she will almost certainly be found snapping photos, painting, translating books or playing the ranad-ek.
Along with sharing the musical and artistic talents of her father, His Majesty the King, the Princess is following the footsteps of Her Majesty the Queen, "the Pre-eminent Protector of Art and Craft", in preserving Thai art and culture. She has learned khon classical masked dance, is involved in the preservation of the country's archaeological sites and supports artisans throughout the Kingdom.
In 2003, the Culture Ministry named her "The Most Illustrious Artist", honouring her dual roles as creator and conservator.
"Princess Sirindhorn is a multi-talented artist who always enjoys learning new arts," says Professor Apinan Poshyananda, general director of the Culture Ministry.
This year, to mark the fifth-cycle anniversary of its Royal Patron - the Princess turns 60 today - the Culture Ministry is working with the Foreign Affairs Ministry to showcase her talents to the world. The year-long celebration will see the Princess exhibiting her photos and performing on the Thai-style xylophone, while more than 100 khon dancers from the Fine Arts Department, performers from Bunditpatanasilpa Institute, Thai filmmakers and contemporary artists will showcase the Kingdom's art and culture in China and England.
The Princess will be in Beijing on Saturday to open her solo photography exhibition at the Capital Museum.
"On display are more than 70 snapshots the Princess has taken during her visits to China as well as scenes and events in Thailand," Apinan tells The Nation.
Among the highlights are photos of opera performers and dancers who perform during Chinese New Year in Bangkok's Yaowarat neighbourhood, a favourite haunt of the Princess. There's also a snap from Wutunxia Monastery in Qinghai, China, with monks and a soldier taking a keen interest in their camera-toting Royal Thai visitor. Images of a Buddhist ceremony during a flood in Phetchaburi are also included.
On Sunday, the Princess will play the ranad-ek at the National Museum, in a concert accompanied by a classical Thai orchestra.
Khon dancers will perform an episode from the Ramayana directed by National Artist Sirichaichan Fakjamroon, who taught the Princess the ranad-ek. Sirichaichan has also composed five celebratory songs for the Princess and is overseeing the performance inspired by the lotus for this special show.
Apinan adds that the culture ministries of Thailand and China are scheduled to sign a memorandum of understanding on cultural exchanges covering the next four years, bolstering an already-strong relationship between the two countries. And with the proven success of the Chinese Culture Centre in Thailand, Apinan is hoping that a Thai Culture Centre will open in China in the near future.
London's celebrations, which take place in June, will open a new chapter for Thai performing arts and cinema in England. The Royal Albert Hall will host a khon gala on June 18, 130 years after a traditional Siamese orchestra first performed there during the reign of King Rama V.
"According to historical records, the 19-member orchestra led by Mr Kram and Mr Plaek performed at various London venues during 1884 and 1885. It was the first Thai troupe to put on a show at the Royal Albert Hall," Apinan says.
"More importantly, the band was given the chance to perform in front of Queen Victoria at her summer palace. The queen, who played the flute, was very impressed, when the orchestra played 'God Save the Queen'. The record notes that Queen Victoria talked to Plaek, a player of the Thai flute, and commented that the Siamese musicians had beautifully adjusted Thai instruments to fit the Western-style music," Apinan says.
Using this historical record as his base, Apinan met the Royal Albert Hall's director last year to prepare this big celebration.
This time the Thai troupe will perform in front of more than 3,500 audience members. Tickets, which cost between 15 (S$ 30) and 20 pounds (Bt720 (S$30) and Bt960), will be sold at the hall and part of the proceeds will be donated to the Princess' charities.
Thai cinema will be highlighted for the first time at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts' Princess Anne Theatre from June 25 to 27, with seven films to be selected by Bafta and the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand. Sir David Puttnam, producer of the 1984 made-in-Thailand Oscar-winner "The Killing Fields" will be one of the VIP guests at this film event.
The Princess will be in London in November to open an exhibition of Thai contemporary art the Saatchi Gallery.
"I met Saatchi's chief executive Nigel Hurst last year to discuss the Thai show," Apinan says. "Contemporary Thai art can be seen in London at the Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon, which boasts murals by National Artists Chalermchai Kositpipat and Panya Vijinthanasarn, painted in 1984 and '85," Apinan says.
Co-curated by Hurst and Apinan, the one-month show will feature works by 25 artists. The gallery will also publish a book covering the works of some 70 contemporary Thai artists and this will be launched at the opening.
"Hurst was in Thailand last month to visit art shows in Bangkok and also met some artists," Apinan says. "He will send his team to Bangkok soon for a few months to study Thai contemporary art and meet with artists, curators and critics."
After its run in London, the exhibition will move in March next year to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.
"The special celebration is not only for the Princess herself, it is also a celebration of the richness of Thai art and culture," Apinan says.