“Better a lump of shit than a fart” is unlike any of the proverbs your parents would use. But in Thai culture, “there is wit in our wisdom” Tulaya Pornpiriyakulchai, author of Thai Folk Wisdom, said during our meeting. Spending most of her life abroad mainly in Boston, Tulaya returned home to Thailand a few years ago looking for a break from the creatively exhaustive nature of working in branding, and to reconnected to her Thai roots and culture.
A whole new dimension was revealed to her upon hearing the proverbs her elders were saying during their daily discussions. It takes great effort to understand these often enigmatic proverbs. Tulaya set out to research them and her results showed that traditional proverbs as well as their explanations were housed only in lengthy textbooks. “Folk wisdom highlights the wit and humor of my culture, teaches about life and helps me rediscover my roots” , Tulaya says. Her personal quest transformed into a desire to develop a new medium to engage and teach the youth about their long forgotten folk wisdom.
In the two years following, Tulaya spent her time visiting contemporary art exhibitions at museums and universities in search of talent amongst the young and seasoned contemporary artists. Together with her friend Jane Vejjajiva, as well as many local artists, they created the book: Thai Folk Wisdom, Contemporary Takes On Traditional Proverbs.
What better medium than through contemporary art, to engage our youth and their visionary sensors, believes Tulaya. During the launch of the book in January this year, over 400 guests attended among them was Thailand’s Prime Minister. The book was well received throughout the country and across all generations.
Knowledge and use of folk wisdom is diminishing around the world. Though they are expressed in different languages, they all use symbolism to share an idea or teach a lesson. Where in Thailand, the use of elephants are quite common in local proverbs, it can be the horse or cow in Chinese proverbs. With this in mind, Tulaya created Wisdom Beyond Borders (Wbb) to express these cultural differencs. Wbb will be a website and application that will provide a forum for youngsters around the world to share folk wisdom from their native countries.
Currently, Wbb is in its final days of online fundraising. All funds will be used to develop the website and send the Thai Folk Wisdomcollection around the world, displaying it various universities and museums.
Up until now, the Thai Folk Wisdom collection has been on display amongst different universities and museums throughout Singapore. It has spent the past few months at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore Management University and is currently housed in New York University, Tisch Asia through to the end of 2011.
For 2012, it will be showcased at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, School of The Arts Singapore, National University of Singapore, and waiting to confirm their final destination at the Asian Civilization Museum, Singapore.
Neighboring Asian countries have recognized the importance to educate and engage the next generation about their native folk wisdom. Some have reached out to Tulaya to work with local artists to produce a collection for their country. Thai Folk Wisdom is amongst the first in Asia to express folk wisdom through contemporary art. But hopefully through Wisdom Beyond Borders, it will not be the last and traditional proverbs will live on through the youth.
For more details on the where and when the Thai Folk Wisdom exhibition will be held in Singapore, email: Creativeadvokate@gmail.com