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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Thai artist Mitree Parahom transforms the interiors of award-winning Bangkok restaurant EAT ME with pastoral murals of Isaan life

Renowned Bangkok restaurant EAT ME, in partnership with Thai artist Mitree Parahom, welcomes diners and art lovers to experience the vibrant countryside life of Issan with the artist’s new installation, “The Morlam Mural – Isaan Dance.”

The completed installation, which the artist has been creating for weeks on-site at EAT ME, enchants viewers with bold-coloured murals of bucolic countryside scenes from his homeland in Thailand’s Isaan region. The murals span the second-floor dining room and the more intimate third-floor dining space.

Srisaket-born artist Mitree, who usually works in his studio near Nong Pah Pong temple in Ubon Ratchathani, brings colourful, larger-than-life scenes of Isaan farmers to life on the restaurant’s walls. In one vignette, two farmers’ arms are high in the air, hands gestured in dance, celebrating the rice harvest. Throughout, the artist adds graceful details, such as touches of betel leaf-stained lips on bronzed farmers and iridescent-green rice being transplanted in the paddies.

The title of the installation – “The Morlan Mural – Isaan Dance” – refers to the distinctive style of music known as Mor lam, a conversational style of singing, vocal leaps, and strong rhythmic accompaniments born in the rice fields of the Isaan region and the ancient musical traditions of the Mon-Khmer peoples.

“People in these paintings are mostly family and neighbours,” Mitree explains. “All the rice in the paintings shows how abundant it is in my homeland during the harvest period. Cultivating rice is the main event for Isaan people. It’s central to every activity, and the focus of my installation.”

“My work is modern Isaan contemporary art, and the style is folk art, which tells the story of Isaan culture and everyday life,” Mitree continues. “My inspiration comes from my memories of the lifestyle in Isaan, where I live and spend most of my time, in Srisaket province.”

This isn’t the first time that EAT ME has shown the work of the 54-year-old farmer-cum-artist. The Chulalongkorn Art graduate, who has exhibited his artworks everywhere from Asia to Australia, London to New York, held his first show at EAT ME called ‘Up Country’ in 2004. But it’s the first time that Mitree has painted murals on EAT ME’s walls, and the first time that the artist has created an installation that could remain in place for at least a year – or longer.

EAT ME owners Darren and Cherie Hausler and Tim Butler, reflecting on Mitree’s murals and the restaurant’s long-standing reputation as a destination for both fine food and stimulating artwork, remark that the installation itself, and the open-ended plan for its residency on EAT ME’s walls, fit well with the restaurant’s ethos.

“We’ve held regular art exhibitions at EAT ME, in collaboration with H Gallery, almost since we first opened the restaurant 25 years ago,” Darren Hausler said. “But rather than hang, take down and re-hang new exhibitions every month or so, we’re slowing down, and we’d love our diners to take more time to absorb the details of the art, too. It aligns with our philosophy as a restaurant-bar, where our focus is on sustainable slow food and drink, and now, slow art,” he explained.

“We’re starting with Mitree’s murals, which depict a joyous, simple, slow life in Isaan, where things are done as they’ve always been done, a lifestyle that’s rapidly disappearing in increasingly urbanised parts of the world.” Darren elaborated. “We first showed Mitree’s canvases here 20 years ago. It seemed right that his beautiful pastoral scenes should be the installation that could stay up for years.”

Mitree is also happy with how his murals turned out. “I didn’t have any idea what I would do when I first saw the walls at EAT ME restaurant,” the artist admitted. “But the murals are way beyond my expectations.”

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