By May Cat
AFO Guest Contributor
As a multidisciplinary artist, May immerses herself in various mediums inspired by her Thai-American roots. She is committed to presenting the perspectives of Southeast Asians with educational and contemporary art practice. She grew up in Chicago, IL, attended Cooper Union in New York City, and now lives and works in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on twitter: @maycatpdx
Nuh Peace is a Multidisciplinary artist / fashion designer based in Bangkok / New York. A post internet, drag queen, cyberpunk. Nuh is involved with Snatch Power Bangkok (the Black queer feminist / artist collective movement), also the Neo-Bangkok movement; Where we gave the full power back into the hands of artists in Bangkok.
“In a way,” Nuh Peace says in Thai through my laptop screen, “We’re living in Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory right now,” referring to pop artist’s work from 1962-1984. Behind their white face paint, green lipstick and green eyeshadow is the eloquent and soft spoken artist — a contrast to their public imagery of loud outfits uploaded through the digital sphere.
Based in New York City and Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, Nuh Peace is a multidisciplinary Thai artist whose mediums combine fashion, performance, and video. Self-proclaimed “post-internet, drag queen, and cyberpunk,” they embody multiple experiences of marginalization, collaging countercultures and popular subcultures together-- punk, grunge, goth, rave, cyber and drag. Their performances feature themselves in full face makeup and their fashion collection, sometimes accompanied by other pro-working class, pro-queer collaborators. Usually held in places like the bar or the mall, these performances often include a speech or prose about rejecting capitalism and gatekeeping norms, punctuated by embracing the self-actualization of being a “freak.”
Born in Thailand and moved to the United States as a teenager through a foreign exchange program, Nuh Peace grew up in New York, Arkansas, and Florida, where they somehow found themselves at a Christian high school. After being scolded for their inability to draw well in art class, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol and Pop Art forever changed their life.
Nuh Peace is part of collectives #SnatchPower Bangkok, a “Black queer feminist / artist collective movement” and Neo-Bangkok movement, which aims to leverage power away from the market-driven art world and back to artists themselves.
In my 8am Portland morning and their 10pm Bangkok night, I had the opportunity to interview Nuh Peace, in both Thai and English about the art scene of Bangkok, capitalism, and queer appropriation.
T(h)ai Collection & Performances
Contemporary Art in Thai culture is still new, not yet seized entirely by the elitist or the upper middle class, which provides a playground. To Nuh Peace, there isn’t a divide between art and fashion, despite the lavishness and hyper commercialism of the latter (which some can argue, applies to much institutionally approved art as well).
The ไท(ย) / T(h)ai) collection communicates a sense of chaos and mismatch composition, like quilts of punk and rave, drag and futurism sewn together. With plaid on parachute pants, a plastic poncho with a generic tribal tramp stamp, a transit card on a necklace, studded belts and fishnets, the collection also seems to be post-gender, as if gender were abolished. Neon orange and yellow accents are over-layed with an advertisement. The collection’s models are brown, some skateboard out into the runway. Many outfits carry the motifs of transit: sports cars, tuk tuk (Thai rickshaw), and Bangkok Sky Transit maps, suggesting the encapsulation of multiple identities converging in their everyday journey. In a set of photographs, Nuh Peace wears a black outfit with “Bangkok City of Vulture” stenciled on the back and drag anime eyes, at a grocery store featuring Campbell's soup cans as an homage to Warhol. A video features the country’s junta and distorted moving images in a landscape, overlayed with sound similar to a Thai talk show, as a comment on current political unrest.
Anti-Capitalism / City of Vultures
Much of Nuh Peace’s work, like “Fashion School Murdered Me” (2017), is autobiographical and speaks about their own marginalization from society and the fashion industry, where they’re employed. “Performance art is the pain killer” they say, insinuating the relief of release and the attention from being seen and heard. As loud and wild as their looks and outfits are, they say they still lack a platform. “No one really asks for my voice.”
Rather than using current celebrities as literal image, Nuh Peace looks to pop culture for symbols to make commentaries on. Though contemporary art is still making ways in Thai culture, even amidst the resurgence of traditional Thai costumes from the past, they believe that Thai people should use art for expression and voicing dissent.
For Nuh Peace, it hits especially hard when the mainstream exploits the creativity of the working class. In one case, Nuh Peace’s invention was literally “vultured,” falling victim to the fashion industry’s notorious history of intellectual property theft and copyright infringement through the appropriation of Native culture and instances like the Jenner-Kardashian’s hip-hop icons t-shirt disaster. The Money Bag, Nuh Peace’s black suitcase with glitched-out red serif letters that read “DIRTY MONEY,” occasionally accessorized in photoshoots and clubbing night outs, was stolen and mass produced by a Bangkok fashion brand. This irony of capitalism that exploits for dirty, unethical, and financial gains prompted the Manifesto of Neo-Bangkok (2018), a performance where Nuh Peace reads “Here’s to the Kids” by Fall Out Boy’s Peter Wentz translated in Thai on a stage, scattered with fake money.
And then there’s the appropriation of queerness in Bangkok. In Thailand the term “third gender” encompasses identities such as gay and transgender, but excludes the complexity of queerness. To be queer, then, is to exist outside the box called “third gender.” Ironically, Nuh Peace finds their queerness tokenized for cultural capital and profit, often being an add-on to a project that features no one looking like them. Bangkok’s visible and clique-ish queer culture often features white skinny queers, making Nuh Peace an automatic misfit. On top of this tokenization within the queer community, there is the capitalizing off of the queer culture, saturating the once safely queer spaces with partying cisgender hetereos.
Enter Nuh Peace’s work: there’s something confessional and sincere about their work, too often overlooked in our goldfish memory of social media viralness. By inserting their queer full-figure brown asian body in the work, their art subverts the typical white, skinny, and heterosexual body.
In the context of our digital culture’s easy-to-steal access to their art, I asked Nuh Peace what will happen when their idea is (inevitably) stolen again. “If they steal it, I feel like my art is complete,” they said. In this sense, they are actually incorporating the inevitable vulturing into their work. Perhaps the paradox is that mainstream absorption is the expected sacrifice that artists must make for collective consciousness. “It completes the creative cycle.”