Buffalo Field: Cultural renewal in Nang Lerng, Bangkok

abstract

This presentation focuses on a community arts festival in Bangkok – Buffalo Field– for which I am Artistic Director, co-founded with architect Ploy Yamtree and community organisers Dang Suan Welployngam and Nammon Welployngam. Situated in the old town area of Nang Lerng, the festival name plays on the original Thai word for the community – Sanam Kwai – or ‘field of buffalos’, when the land was mainly rice-fields over 100 years ago. Nowadays, Nang Lerng has a mix of low-income residents with insecure tenure in often substandard housing, alongside heritage landmarks and tourist destinations. Three iterations (2017–2019) have seen close collaborations form between community members and international artists, facilitated by co-design network, Openspace and the local E-Lerng artist group. With the buffalo spirit as a conceptual figure for renewal and resilience, the festival is part of a broader movement of community activism in the face of rapid gentrification and urban development. Focused on site-specific dance, social practice and performance art, the 2019 program also included Local Studio, an intensive consultation process with Nang Lerng residents and leaders, as well as invited academics from Thammasat, Australia and the US. Exploring Three themes – sustenance, settlement, and social fabric – the festival developed an innovative model for community mobile station, through multilayered activities across art, design, and performance.

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