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News - 11th of October 2022

WA artist Nathan Beard’s mischievous reflection on Thai diasporic identity

WA artist Nathan Beard’s mischievous reflection on Thai diasporic identity

Boorloo (Perth) multidisciplinary artist Nathan Beard presents a mischievous reflection on Thai diasporic identity and its construction for his new body of work, A Puzzlement, at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) from 28 October 2022 – 8 January 2023.

Presenting works created during his 2022 residency at ACME Studios in London, Beard draws from his Australian-Thai heritage to playfully interrogate ideas of authenticity and the complex influences of colonial archives, pop culture, and collective memory in forming western characterisations of ‘Thainess’.

The artist – whose practice spans photography, video, sculpture, and installation – places items from his own family archive alongside broader cultural objects, juxtaposing his mother’s Buddhist shrine statues and 90’s fast-food Thai-themed toys.

A Puzzlement is borne from the desire to locate how my relationship to Thainess might be formed without the primary source of my mother’s cultural influence after her death,” said Nathan Beard.

“It looks towards archives and popular culture embedded within the West in order to process the ways cultural authenticity can be expressed and maintained, and how diasporic experiences might complicate the legacies of these institutions.”

Encompassing reproduced artefacts and archival objects, installation, film and photography, A Puzzlement pokes fun at pre-existing notions of taste and value – high and low, historical and sentimental – interweaving elements that may be considered ‘exotic’ or kitsch from one perspective, and mundane and every-day from another.

The title A Puzzlement is an explicit reference to a song from the Broadway musical and Hollywood film The King and I – a famously fictionalised account of an English governess in the royal court of King Mongkut (1851–67), which has greatly contributed to the way Thailand is perceived in the broader Western cultural imagination.

PICA Curator Sarah Wall said: “Nathan’s solo project at PICA comes at an exciting time in his career. His new exhibition emerges from his recent residency at ACME Studios, London, and builds on his ongoing explorations into characterisations of ‘Thainess’.”

“Nathan deftly draws on a range of references and influences – from museum archives and collections to Hollywood movies and cartoon iconography – to playfully topple established ideas of authenticity and taste, and create space for new and different meanings to emerge.”

Continuing his enquiry into the production of hierarchies and signifiers of taste across cultures and time, Beard’s new body of work is influenced by his research into Thai artefacts, imagery, and orchids from archives of The British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, British Film Institute and Kew Gardens.

Collaboration with Chicho Gelato

To celebrate the exhibition opening, PICA has partnered with local gelato mavens Chicho Gelato to create a Thai-inspired gelato dessert, featuring coconut sticky rice and mango sorbet.

This new take on a classic Thai dessert will be available during the first two weekends of A Puzzlement, from 29 & 30 October and 5 & 6 November.

A Puzzlement opens 6pm, Thursday 27 October, alongside Pilar Mata Dupont’s solo exhibition, Las Hormigas/The Ants.

Image: Nathan Beard, image courtesy of the Minderoo Foundation, photo: Emma Dolzadelli

Information for Media

Media Contact

Publicist Tiki Menegola | | +61 467 227 822

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Artist Biography

Nathan Beard (born 1987) is a multidisciplinary artist based in Boorloo, Perth, Western Australia. Recent exhibitions include White Gilt 2.0, Firstdraft, NSW (2020); Here&Now20: Perfectly Queer, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, WA (2020); White Gilt, Cool Change Contemporary, WA (2019); A dense intimacy, Bus Projects, VIC (2019); Siamese Smize, Turner Galleries, WA (2018); and WA Focus: Nathan Beard, Art Gallery of Western Australia, WA (2017). In 2017 Beard participated in the 4A Beijing Studio Program and is undertaking the Australia Council Residency at ACME Studios, London in 2022. He was the recipient of the 2022 Minderoo Foundation Artist Fund Award, and has been a finalist in the Ramsay Art Prize (2021), The churchie national emerging art prize (2020) John Stringer Prize (2017), and Fremantle Art Centre Print Award (2015, 2016, Highly Commended 2017, 2018). In 2021, Beard guest edited Runway Journal 43: Divine.

Public Programs

Exhibitions Opening: Las Hormigas/The Ants & A Puzzlement

Thursday 27 October | 6–8:30pm

Celebrate the opening of Latinx artist Pilar Mata Dupont’s highly theatrical and cinematic exhibition Las Hormigas/The Ants, alongside A Puzzlement by Boorloo (Perth) based artist Nathan Beard – a mischievous reflection on Thai diasporic identity through archival artefacts and pop culture imagery. With Kambarang (October & November) seeing the return of warm nights, cool off with a free* early bird drink and enjoy music by local DJ artist and producer Lia T.

*While stocks last.

Artist Talk: Nathan Beard

Saturday 29 October | 1–2pm

Hear from artist Nathan Beard about his solo exhibition at PICA, A Puzzlement. Facilitated by PICA Curator Sarah Wall, Nathan will delve into the rich, varied and sometimes mischievous concepts underpinning this major exhibition, including his recent six-month residency at ACME Studios in London, UK, and fascination with Looney Tunes.

During this residency Nathan spent time researching archival collections of Thai artefacts to consider the role and legacy of colonial archives in historically informing and shaping Western visions of Thainess, and the complex intertwining of colonialism, pop culture, and cultural stereotypes.

Film Screening: Getting to Know You: The King and I in context with Nathan Beard

Friday 25 November | 5:30–9pm | On sale soon

Join PICA exhibiting artist Nathan Beard for a screening of the classic film The King and I. Nathan’s solo exhibition A Puzzlement draws on the film as key source material in representing the ways in which Thailand is viewed in the Western cultural imagination.

This screening will be followed by a conversation with Nathan and Curtin University’s Senior Lecturer in Communication and Cultural Studies, Dr Christina Lee. The pair will unpick the multitude of ways in which The King and I – a film banned in Thailand due to its inaccuracy yet beloved by Hollywood – intersects with complex cultural stereotypes and colonial fantasies.

This event is presented as part of PICA After Dark, a series of late-night events over November and December 2022. Visit our galleries on Friday evenings, grab a drink from PICABAR and explore our final exhibitions of the year – Pilar Mata Dupont’s Las Hormigas/The Ants and Nathan Beard’s A Puzzlement.

About the King and I (1956)

Based on the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical of the same name – which in turn was based on Margaret Landon’s novel, Anna and the King of Siam (1944), itself based on the 1860s memoirs of Indian-born Anna Leonowens – the 1956 film follows Anna (Deborah Kerr), a widowed schoolteacher and governess, as she arrives in the court of King Mongkut of Siam (Yul Brynner).

About the Speakers

Dr Christina Lee is Senior Lecturer in Communication and Cultural Studies at Curtin University. She specialises in Cultural Studies and Film Studies. Before entering academia, Christina worked in a variety of roles in the media industry. Previous experiences included interviewing gold medal athletes at the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games in the capacity of reporter, interning at a Hollywood production house on Sunset Boulevard, and working as a research consultant and videographer on performance-video-installation art pieces and short films.

Image: Nathan Beard, King Mongkut (1956), 2022, courtesy of the artist and sweet pea