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Award-winning Thai artist highlights the plight of plastic pollution

Pratchaya Charernsook uses art to highlight microplastic pollution in “Chumphon Estuary,” blending beauty and activism to challenge our role in environmental stewardship.

In the coastal town of Chumphon, Thailand, where the river estuary meets the sea, an artist is harnessing the power of creativity to shed light on a growing global crisis. Ms Pratchaya Charernsook, award-winner in the realm of contemporary art, won the 2023 UOB Southeast Asian Painting of the Year (SEA POY) award with her stirring masterpiece, “Chumphon Estuary.” Through this striking art piece, Pratchaya draws attention to the global catastrophe of microplastic pollution and its profound impact on our oceans and communities.

Pratchaya’s journey into the perils of plastics began in 2019, driven by her heartfelt concern for the environment. Chumphon Estuary, her latest mixed media and microplastic artwork, offers viewers a bird’s-eye view of the estuary. The art piece not only captures the intricate beauty of the landscape but also serves as a poignant reminder of the intricate web connecting rivers, oceans and communities.

The artist, who has a keen interest in the broader impact of human activities on the planet, embarked on this project to focus specifically on microplastics—those tiny, often invisible, fragments of plastic that have infiltrated ecosystems worldwide. From the banks of the Chumphon Estuary, Pratchaya collected discarded remnants of our plastic-ridden lives — lighters, bottles, containers and more — to compose a visual narrative that reflects the interconnectedness of plastic waste movement through our environment.

Speaking about her award-winning creation, Pratchaya emphasised the global nature of the microplastic issue. “Receiving this award proves that the problem of microplastic pollution that I am trying to raise awareness about is a global issue,” she states, echoing the universality of environmental challenges.

In a candid conversation for Trends, Pratchaya delves into the genesis of her artistic exploration. The turning point came when she learned about microplastics found in the stomachs of Thai short mackerel fish in Trang province. The shocking discovery of 78 pieces of microplastics in a single fish served as a wake-up call, propelling her to channel her artistic expression towards addressing this environmental and health threat.

According to the United Nations, there are over 50 trillion microplastics in the ocean. If we think that there is something pure and traditional about consuming “wild” seafood freshly caught, the reality today is that the bounty we eat from the sea is contaminated by plastic. And a lot of that pollution may be making its way into our bodies when we eat seafood.

When it comes to plastics, consumers of seafood may be eating as much as the equivalent of plastic soft drink bottles and credit cards. Yet you’ll never hear a literal “crunch,” and the reason for this is simple, unsettling and disgusting: The plastic in your seafood is “microplastic,” a term for any plastic particle that is less than 5 mm in length.

As Pratchaya’s art navigates the delicate balance between beauty and activism, she explained her approach to art. “I don’t have any particular favourite medium that I like to work with. But I choose the medium that best helps my artwork to communicate the message,” she explains. Her art portfolio encompasses installations, 2D and 3D art, video art and singular objects — all strategically chosen to convey a powerful message about the impact of human choices on the environment.

Looking ahead, Pratchaya envisions a future where art transcends mere aesthetics. “While beauty is important, it is equally crucial to communicate messages that prompt people to think and become aware of the issues being addressed in the artwork,” she asserts. With her commitment to raising awareness, Pratchaya is not merely an artist but a beacon of environmental consciousness in the world of contemporary art.

In the delicate brushstrokes and carefully arranged microplastics of “Chumphon Estuary,” Pratchaya Charernsook invites us to ponder our interconnectedness with the environment and challenges us to be stewards of a planet in desperate need of our care.

Managing Director - DBC Asia | + Articles

David Barrett is a MICE Consultant, Marketing Strategist and digital video advocate. Founder of DBC Group, Member of Institute of Place Management (MIMP) his motto is “Everybody has a story to tell. Let me tell yours.”

David is a long-term resident of Bangkok having lived and worked in the Thai capital for more than 32 years. He is recognised in the Thai tourism and hospitality industry for his passion for promoting Thailand, his love of Thai food, and his creative approach to marketing.

64 years young, David is a Brit in Bangkok. Born in St Helier, UK, he returned to the UK and set up home in Cornwall during the COVID pandemic. With business back as usual, David has returned to Thailand. He’s a man on a mission to interview leaders and trend-setters in business, sustainability, the arts and entertainment. You can watch his weekly conversations on Trends YouTube channel.

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