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Thai Art & Illustrations by Yasaman Haghighat

The language of creativity has always been my strongest point and I want to be able to express my stories, my background, my fears and my happiness through the language of Art (Yasaman Haghighat)

Yasaman Haghighat is a 27 year-old Thai-Iranian artist born and raised in England. Since her childhood, she has been artistic and very much interested in mythical creatures and fantasy worlds. Hence, her art works are very much inspired by her interest in mythology.

Thai Art by Yasaman Haghighat

Ramakien character Hanuman by Yasaman Haghighat

Ramakien character Hanuman by Yasaman Haghighat

Yas studied English and Theatre.  Thus, she spent most of her time with theatrical societies sewing costumes, painting set and designing marketing and publicity. However, Yas is also an English teacher. Hence, after working in an international school, she went back to her roots and moved to Thailand for three years, where she was a primary school teacher in her home town of Chanthaburi.

Fan with peacock illustration by Yasaman Haghighat

Fan with peacock illustration by Yasaman Haghighat

With her younger students, she did a lot of arts and crafts. For instance, she taught them how to sew, how to create shadow puppets, making art from recycling, drawing still life, fashion shows and much more. While she was in Thailand, she spent a lot of time around temples with her family, who are very traditional Thai. Her grandparents told her many mythological stories from Thailand, which were very inspiring to her.

Buddha illustration by Yasaman Haghighat

Buddha illustration by Yasaman Haghighat

What is more, when her mother bought her a set of Ramayana books, Yas was captivated by all the amazing characters in it. In addition, she saw some Thai dance and the marvellous costumes stuck with her.

Kinnari by Yasaman Haghighat

Kinnari, the half-bird half-human divine musician by Yasaman Haghighat

Yas’ heritage is a Thai mother and an Iranian father – both cultures are full of rich history and mythology. Hence, Yas loves mythology because of all the beautiful morals and ethics they imply. She likes how you can learn the values of a society from reading their ancient stories. That is to say, you can learn about their traditions and honours from a simple nursery rhyme, or a story!

Elephant by Yasaman Haghighat

Colourful elephant by Yasaman Haghighat

Naga, the mythical snake by Yasaman Haghighat naga

Naga, the mythical snake by Yasaman Haghighat

Thus, her main inspiration is story telling which is an important tradition in every culture; Yas has grown up with stories from England, Iran and Thailand. Thus, she likes to spread her mix of culture through her art which is her way of story telling.

Furniture Coffee Table by Yasaman Haghighat

Furniture coffee table by Yasaman Haghighat

Side table with elephant painting by Yasaman Haghighat

Side table with elephant painting by Yasaman Haghighat

Since returning to England this year, she has been slowly working on her art – She hand draws illustrations for greeting cards as well as hand painting fans, furniture and household items such as bowls or coffee coasters.

Coffee coasters by Yasaman Haghighat

Coffee coasters ‘Fruits’ by Yasaman Haghighat

Coasters with elephant painting by Yasaman Haghighat

Coasters with elephant painting by Yasaman Haghighat

Finally, Yasaman Haghighat will be exhibiting her art works in Bristol at the Totterdown Arts Trail. This will be from 20th -22nd November 2015. For more information, please check out her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/yas.haghighat/ and Twitter: https://twitter.com/yas_haghighat

Yours, Sirinya




Woodcarving – A Famous Thai Art Form

Woodcarving can be regarded as a characteristic decorative Thai art form. It reflects the fertility and vitality of nature in technique and subject matter. Wood has been primarily used for furniture and religious objects, and thus not so much for creating Buddha statues. Hence, woodcarvers have sought their inspiration primarily in nature and mythology since they have been free of restrictive iconography.

Thai Woodcarving

Carved facade at Thawan Duchanee's Black House Museum (photo credit: Anandajoti Bhikkhu)

Carved wooden facade at Thawan Duchanee’s Black House Museum (photo credit: Anandajoti Bhikkhu, photodharma.net)

Woodcarvers have employed a composite technique that allowed them to carve single parts of a work separately and later assemble them. Thus, the art work appears spontaneous and effortless, hence paralleling the creativity of nature.

In tropical countries like Thailand, wood is an abundant material that is also considered to have a kind of spiritual quality. Therefore, trees are considered to house spirits. Among these spirits, the most well-known to Thai people are Phra Sai (the spirit of the banyan tree) and Phrase Pho (the spirit of the pipal tree). These are frequently mentioned in Thai literature and are included in the group of heavenly spirits. The other two famous spirits are Nang Tani (the woman spirit of the banana tree) and Nan Takian who is the female spirit of the hopea tree. Nevertheless, teak wood is preferred to other wooden material because it is easy to carve and relatively resistant to the elements and insects.

Large Carving on Wall at the Black House Museum (photo credit: Anandajoti Bikkhu)

Thai woodcarving from the most recent past: large carving on wall at the Black House Museum (photo credit: Anandajoti Bhikkhu, photodharma.net)

The earliest Thai woodcarving pieces date from the 16th century. The high-point of this Thai art form is found in images of lesser religious figures which date from the late Ayutthaya period, i.e. the 17th to early 18th century. For instance, the collection of the National Museum in Bangkok includes such fine pieces like the mythical dancer and celestial swan Kinnari (in Thai: กินรี).

Kinnari statue at the National Museum in Bangkok (photo taken by myself)

Kinnari statue at the National Museum in Bangkok (photo taken by myself)

The Kinnari is a mythological figure, an inhabitant of the Himaphan (Himalaya) forest, that is half-human and half-swan. It is a symbol of feminine beauty, grace and cultural accomplishment. The Kinnari statue at the National Museum in Bangkok is 110cm high and dates from the 17th to early 18th century. Its tail is in a stylized design which is called ‘kranok’. It is often found in Thai art.

Peaceful head wood carving by Thawan Duchanee at Baan Dam (photo credit: Anandajoti Bhikkhu)

‘Peaceful head’ by Thawan Duchanee at Baan Dam (photo credit: Anandajoti Bhikkhu, photodharma.net)

In fact, there had been a rich developing tradition of woodcarving in Thailand over prior centuries. However, earlier works, before the 17th century, did not survive. Nonetheless, this amazing workmanship continued into the early Bangkok period. Nevertheless, in the most recent past, Thai National Artist Thawan Duchanee also created stunning wall and façade carvings at Baan Dam, the Black House Museum in Chiang Rai.

Even today, woodcarving is a prominent art in Thailand. Thus, the finest wood sculptures have been closely associated with architecture, animals being a favourite subject. You can buy objects carved from wood at special markets like the cultural and craftsman’s market in Chiang Mai. The following video shows you which kind of objects are created and available at these markets. In addition, it also relates something about the history of this art form (in Thai).

By the way, there is also a new privately-owned museum named Woodland in Nakhom Pathom Province. The presentation is about a fantasy land and Grandfather Teak who relates the story of the woodmen in thousands of elaborate woodcarvings. These sculptures are from a collection owned by Narong Thewphaingarm and his father. There are three areas in the exhibition: firstly, the Story of Woodland, with over 5,000 wooden objects, secondly, Woodland Village where you find restaurants and souvenir shops, and thirdly, the Resort, which is the former residence of the owner’s family.

Woodmen room at the Woodland museum (photo credit: bangkokpost.com)

Woodmen room at the Woodland museum (photo credit: bangkokpost.com)

Finally, we may say that Thai woodcarving has a great tradition in Thailand. It is a very elaborate, amazing and stunning craft that requires a lot of skill by the craftsman.

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: Treasures from The National Museum Bangkok, Selected by The National Museum Volunteers Group, 4th reprint 2006)




Mythical Creatures in Thai Culture

If you’ve been to Thailand, you’ve probably come across some representations of mythical creatures in Thai temples. These beings are said to be living in the Himaphan Forest on the mythical Mount Meru which is considered the centre of the Buddhist and Hindu cosmos. For instance, there is the mythical snake, the lion, crocodile and swan.

Thai Mythical Creatues

Naga, the Mythical Snake

Naga the semi-divine snake (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan)

Naga the semi-divine snake (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan)

The Naga is a semi-divine serpent who is a Wat guardian. As a being of the waters and the underworld, the snake is used as a decoration on barge boards, eave brackets, windows, doors, gates and arches. The legends say that Naga can also transform into a human being. In addition, the Naga can control the rain and thus affects the prosperity of a region. Therefore, it also guards the hidden wealth of the earth and protects Buddhism.

Naga-Makara, the Mythical Snake & Crocodile Composite

Naga emerging from mouth of Makara (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan)

Naga emerging from mouth of Makara (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan)

On balustrades, the Naga is often combined with the Makara which is a crocodile-like being. It is interesting to note that the open mouth of the Makara often disgorges the angry Naga. The head of the Makara frequently resembles an elephant trunk while the neck is encircled by three ruffs.

The Mythical Mom, an aquatic being

Mythical creatures, the Mom, an aquatic four legged guardian (photo credit: unseenthailand.org)

Thai mythical creatures, the Mom, an aquatic four legged guardian (photo credit: unseenthailand.org)

Apart from the Naga and Makara there is another similar creature called the Mythical Mom which is a mighty aquatic creature with scales and four legs. This representation can be occasionally spotted at the entrance of temples in Northern Thailand.

Singh, the Mythical Lion

Singh, the mythical lion (photo taken by myself)

Singh, the mythical lion (photo: Sirinya’s Thailand Blog)

Another common guardian is the mythical lion that is referred to as Singh or Singha. This figure usually comes in pairs at the entrance to a temple or another sacred structure. In the Chinese-Thai version, the female lion is on the left side with her cub while the male lion is on the right side having a ball under his paw.

Khochasi, the Mythical Lion & Elephant Composite

Khochasi next to Buddha statue (photo credit: jeffenjane.com)

Khochasi next to a Buddha statue (photo credit: jeffenjane.com)

This creature, the Khochasi, is a composite of a lion with an elephant’s trunk, ears and tusks. It guards sacred places and in particular portals in the North of Thailand.

Hong, the Celestial Swan

Sao Hong, the mythical swan (photo credit: Saad Akhtar, Flickr)

Sao Hong, the mythical swan (photo credit: Saad Akhtar, Flickr)

The Hong (or Hamsa) is a celestial swan with a long and graceful neck, an extended beak, wings, and a gorgeous flowing tail. Many Thais believe that when the lotus-leaf clapper of the bell (that is held on a long string from his beak) is moved by the breeze, prayers are lifted to heaven. The Celestial Swan often occurs on the roof ridges in northern temples.

Kinnara & Kinnari, the Mythical Swan & Divinity Composite

Kinnara at Wat Phra Kaew (photo credit: Michael Janich, wikimedia.org)

Kinnara at Wat Phra Kaew (photo credit: Michael Janich, wikimedia.org)

In the female (Kinnari) and the male (Kinnara) form, this creature is a half celestial dancer and a half celestial swan (hong). They occur in architectural decoration and mural paintings. The female Kinnari symbolizes feminine beauty, grace and cultural accomplishment in singing and dancing. There is also the Shan dance of the Kinnari and Kinnara which is the Thai Yai (Shan) bird dance. The following clip shows you an example of the Kinnari & Kinnara dance.

Garuda, the Mythical Bird

Garuda detail at the Grand Palace in Bangkok (photo taken by myself)

Garuda detail at the Grand Palace in Bangkok (photo taken by myself)

Garuda is a mythical bird. It is the king of the birds and natural enemy of the Nagas. It has a human body but the wings, legs and beak of a bird. It is the vehicle of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Finally, we can say that Thai mythical creatures show how intricately the strands of Buddhism, Hinduism and animism are intertwined in Thai culture and tradition. What is more, mythical beings are also a popular subject in classical Thai art and painting. For instance, Thai National Artist Chakrabhand Posayakrit created amazing pictures of the Kinnari. In this context, I also suggest you check out my Thai Art Motifs Glossary for more general information, if you like 🙂

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference, Carol Stratton, What’s What In A Wat, Silkworm Books, 2010)