26-year-old Patthakarn Sadubtham (middle), a queer artist who aims to challenge societal norms by bringing taboo subjects to the foreground through his photography.

Breaking sexual taboos through art: a queer artist’s quest to liberate sex 

Thai people dont talk about sex. We like it—the evidence lies in the fact that Thailand once ranked among the top 20 countries in terms of traffic to the adult content website Pornhub, despite the site being banned in the Kingdom for moral reasons—but we don’t talk about it. We are extremely well-known for our sex industry, but conversations about it remain largely muted. Well deny it, forcefully, if you confront us with it. 

 

Thai society appears to be preoccupied with morals and ethics. Here, even the slightest hint of a sex-related topic is deemed lewd in nature. Those who consider themselves 'decent' often assert their moral superiority by expressing disapproval of creators in the realm of sexuality and by condemning individuals who openly embrace their own sexuality.

 

Where sexual desire is treated as taboo, kinks, and unconventional sexual preferences are seen as near-sacrilegious deviations. If you have such preferences, you are expected to keep them hidden in the shadows. Those who wish to flaunt them often find themselves relegated to obscure corners of society.

 

But all sorts of sexual fantasies have found a home at Krubb, a sauna catering to the specific needs of gay men in Bangkok.  It is discreetly located just a few minutes walk from the Phra Kanong BTS station. Inside, on the walls of a dimly lit corridor behind a rusted door, hang photographs of men expressing various forms of kinks – Shibari, dog costumes, and more. 


 

These images are the work of 26-year-old Patthakarn Sadubtham, an emerging queer artist.  He aims to challenge societal norms by bringing taboo subjects to the foreground through his photography, which focuses on unconventional sexual desires.

 

The sauna, with activities taking place on its six floors, may seem like an unusual place for art. However, it is a perfect environment for an artist whose works embrace themes of loneliness, longing, and sexual fantasies, largely inspired by his love for the male form. This passion is evident in the graphic photographs of male genitalia dangling daringly on the wall.

 

Patthakarn's work often defies conventional gallery spaces. Nevertheless, it had managed to find its way into three exhibitions: two in Bangkok and one in Phayao.

 

The exhibition BoyXTherapy at Krubb marks his solo debut. The premise, which houses a sauna, fitness area, and two floors of dark rooms set aside for all imaginable sexual activities, has been transformed into an impromptu art gallery for pieces that centre around kinks and desires that live in the shadows.

 

Suppressed yearnings have been transformed into a hazy, incandescent exploration of lust, human desire, loneliness, and melancholy, all draped in the romanticism of cinematographic storytelling.

 

"I love male bodies; I think they are beautiful. I feel comfortable working with male models. But when it comes to female bodies, it's different. I just don't have the same level of comfort," he explained.

 

Growing up gay in Lopburi province, he was raised by his maternal grandparents. He couldnt escape the influence of prudish Buddhist society. However, he was fortunate that they never criticised him for being himself.

 

Discrimination against the queer community is still ubiquitous and Patthakarn realised that other queers haven’t been so lucky.  He tries to use art as a medium to alleviate the hardships that many gay individuals, some still compelled to remain in the shadows, have had to endure. He believes that his work can help to normalise taboos. He hopes that his efforts will empower queer artists passionate about sexuality and sexual themes to step forward and express themselves.

 

The erotic photographer employs melancholia as his weapon, blending it with sexual desire to offer a glimpse into a forbidden world inhabited by sexual creators and those who partake of their creations.

 

"One can be simultaneously melancholic and sexually aroused," he explains, describing the theme of his work.

 

His statement is manifested in two exhibited artworks on the wall: blurred photographs of two men, their bodies pressed together in a dimly lit red room, radiating desire. The artist explains that his aesthetic was largely influenced by the films he observed and studied during his years as a film student at Chulalongkorn University.


 

Through his works, he has become a part of the sexual creators' circle, even falling in love with an anonymous sex creator and artist who served as the muse for some of the exhibited works. This closeness has opened doors to opportunities that allowed him to gain a deep understanding of the challenges faced by Thai sexual creators, who often bear the burden of societal judgment and the stress that comes with their profession. With this insight, Patthakarn also advocates for the overlooked issues that this marginalised community faces: mental illness, sexually transmitted diseases, and the difficulties of accessing proper healthcare.

 

Surrounded by an environment that values perfect bodies and beauty privilege, the artist has also made it his mission to challenge the glass ceiling that hinders individuals who may not conform to conventional beauty standards from entering the art scene. He frequently invites these individuals to model for him.

 

When challenged about the perception that most of his models have chiseled bodies, which can be construed as a form of beauty privilege, he counters, 'Maybe there's a little, but not much. I choose my subjects based on the connections between us, not solely on their looks or bodies.

 

Before transitioning into a full-time artist, Patthakarn experienced a series of resignations from substantial but mundane jobs, including roles in commercial entities like production companies and film studios. He also freelanced as a social media content creator before making the decision to fully embrace the life of an artist.

 

Patthakarn is aware of the practical and realistic challenges that artists often face, especially in a nation that tends to prioritise careers in law and medicine over the arts. Arts majors are sometimes viewed as harbingers of a life filled with financial struggle and perpetual hardship.

 

In consequence, he made the pragmatic move of seeking his mother's blessings and potential support in case his artistic endeavour didn't succeed. Fortunately, it didn't fail, or at least he perceives it that way. While he enjoys the success he has achieved, he still yearns for more.

 

In the Thai arts scene, apart from financial struggles, the issue of seniority also poses challenges. Patthakarn pointed out that young queer artists often experience discrimination from older queer artists who believe that younger artists are inferior due to their shorter apprenticeships.

 

As a young artist, Patthakarn has encountered connoisseurs who approach him not to criticise the nudity in his work but to reprimand his artistic judgment. Some have expressed their disdain for his youth, criticising him for exhibiting at such a young age.

 

According to Patthakarn, the lack of support from peers, coupled with the discrimination mentioned earlier, can be discouraging for young queer artists who aspire to pursue the profession full-time. He, himself remains undeterred by this reality. He firmly believes that in the realm of arts, age is not the determining factor. If you possess talent, then you have talent, and seniority should not take precedence over it. He quipped, 'Even if you are more senior, you've still got to wait in line.

 

The young artist acknowledges that his art may sometimes veer into the realm of the obscene, but that, for him, is acceptable. He believes that aesthetically, there may not be a significant difference between art and pornography.  This doesn't pose a problem for him. His limit, he emphasises, is not defined by decency but by consent.

 

I'm willing to push the limit, but it ultimately boils down to consent. If both parties agree, then it's okay. if not, it ends there,” he explained. He went on to remark that if viewers are offended by his works, it's not his concern. 

 

It's the audience's responsibility to deal with their own feelings towards arts,” he asserts.

 

 

 

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