• The Course of True Love…[1]

    Thai-Australian ceramicist Vipoo Srivilasa is a harbinger of joy, concerned both with the socio-political issues of our times, and with creating artworks that alleviate them. As he has explained, ‘My work will always be fun, happy and beautiful.’[2] While his practice typically melds his own experiences with more universal themes, his recent body of work is, perhaps, one of his most personal. The series equates his quest to have his relationship sanctified with Australia’s journey to ratify same-sex marriage, which was legalised on 9 December 2017, and was inspired bythe Thai folktale of Sang Thong. According to the legend, prince Sang Thong and his chosen bride Rochana must endure many trials before their love, which contravenes social conventions, gains acceptance. The artworks include several pieces of decorative blue and white ware for which Srivilasa is best known, and a group of striking wall-mounted bronze reliefs that represent a departure for the artist. The divergence emerged from his 2017 Australia-Council funded mentorship with the multidisciplinary Thai artist Sakarin Krue-On, who encouraged Srivilasa to explore new materials as a way of extending his practice and ‘…allowed me to be more confident.’[3] With all the whimsy of his ceramics, the painted and patinated bronzes have symbolic meaning, being the material from which statues of the Buddha are cast, and, hence, sacred, and having a solidity that parallels the institution of marriage.[4]

    The series is realised in ten vignettes representing moments in world history that have contributed directly, or indirectly, to the acceptance of same-sex partnerships, and led Australia to enact gay marriage. Of note is 1969, which marks both the year of New York’s Stonewall riots, which saw the city’s LGBT community rebel against the homophobic attitudes of its police force and launched the gay rights movement in the United States, and the artist and his partner’s year of birth. The relief depicts American ‘… gay liberation activist and self-identified drag queen’ Marsha P. Johnson (1945–1992) enfolding figures that symbolise Srivilasa, in the guise of his mermaid alter ego, and his partner, as the proverbial Aussie kangaroo.[5] Replete with the flowers that recur throughout the series and refer to the garland that Rochana offers Sang Thong in acceptance of his marriage proposal, the richly embellished plaque is a homage to Srivilasa’s own union, which was consecrated earlier this year.

    In a gesture that signifies the collaborative processes that inform the artist’s practice, the final element in The Marriage of Sang Thong, is a drawing that he based on comments gathered from across the country in response to the question ‘how do you express your love?’ Together, the artworks in this exhibition are a celebration of these sentiments and love’s ability to triumph over prejudice. At once a declaration of victory and a joyous expression of ardour, Vipoo Srivilasa’s artworks soothe our national conscience and rejoice in our capacity to embrace change.

    Samantha Littley, Independent Writer and Curator

    Masters Candidate, Centre for Art History and Art Theory, Australian National University

    [1] The title of this essay refers to a line from William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream1595–1596, Act 1, Scene 1, ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’. Refer to The Works of William Shakespeare Gathered into One Volume(Great Britain: The Shakespeare Head Press, 1938), 280.

    [2] Vipoo Srivilasa, cited in Barnaby Smith, “Vipoo Srivilasa: Everyday Shrines,”Art Guide Australia, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/50f1262be4b0d70ab5fc3a3f/t/5b68248788251b1754846ea3/1533551765313/screencapture-artguide-au-vipoo-srivilasa-everyday-shrines-2018-04-04-13_21_27.png.

    [3] Vipoo Srivilasa, conversation with the author, 20 July 2019.

    [4] Ibid.

    [5] Vipoo Srivilasa, artist’s statement, 2019.