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“Blue” the latest body of work by Manit Sriwanichpoom presents a series of female and male nudes in various contorted poses.

As the series title suggests, each entire photographic frame is submerged in an intense, deep blue. The nude bodies twist and contort, or hold impossibly pained positions. Their diaphanous skin seems to glow with an eerie blue light against the abyssal yet nuanced indigo background.

In a stark departure from his earlier nudes, especially the “Obscene” series, these male and female bodies are stripped of their sexuality, existing rather as androgynous statues in a series of tortured poses. This subverted bodily expression signifies larger themes of socio-political repression and frustration.
The photos depict poses that recall those from Christian sacrificial iconography, already a prominent theme in Manit’s work. (For instance, a female nude’s limp torso draped on a wooden stool recalls Zurbaran’s “Agnus Dei”, the inspiration behind “Embryonia” 2007, and a male nude’s supine contraction recalls the Michaelangelo’s Pieta.)

Inundated by the all-penetrating blue flood, the figures are rendered helpless. Their tortured paralysis expresses the larger societal helplessness during Thailand’s ongoing political turmoil.

As one of the three colours of the Thai flag, the colour blue may be seen as referring to the Thai national identity—an increasingly polarised identity whose freedoms and rights may be more and more compromised. Seen in this (blue) light, the figures are not only tortured and paralyzed, but also fear of being rendered mute and blind

Yet there is an almost sublime beauty in “Blue” that transcends the political violence and social malaise. Observing these blue images of nude bodies, one cannot help but be reminded of Yves Klein’s blue “monochrome” canvases and “Anthropometries” where he used nude models as “living brushes” to create pure artistic experiences.

Like Klein’s ultramarine evocations of the infinite, Manit’s blue compositions transfix us with their hypnotic hue of oceans and skies. The bodies, however “deformed” and twisted, still evoke a deeply human struggle, and hence perhaps a glimmer of hope, at least in the realm of aesthetic expression.

The “Blue” series is represented by the Adler Subhashok Gallery.

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