Songkhla, in Southern Thailand near Hat Yai, has a growing collection of good quality wall murals painted on the side of buildings.
Most of the street art in Songkhla is located in ‘Songkhla Old Town‘ which is an area with buildings up to 200 years old inhabited by close a knit community of largely Thai-Chinese and Thai-Muslim people many of whose who ancestors came to to Songkhla in the 18th and 19th Century when it was prosperous and important sea port with trading links across Asia.
About Songkhla’s Street Art
In 2016 a decision was made by the Songkhla Provincial Governor Songphol Swadtham that 15 wall murals were to be installed on three roads in the Old Town area (Nok Road, Nakhon Nai Road, and Nang Ngam Road) as part of a project to increase tourism.
The objective was to emulate the positive effect of the Street Art installed in Penang as part of the George Town Festival in 2012. Other towns in Thailand, most notably Phuket Town, have tried the same strategy with good results in terms of increasing visitor numbers.
These first 15 wall murals were designed by art students from Silapakorn University and Thaksin University, with assistance from the staff at the Magic Eye 3D Museum in Hat Yai.
South East Asian Street Art Movement
In terms of the themes and techniques used to create the wall murals, the street art in Songkhla is part of a broader emerging South East Asian street art movement which is most evident in urban centres in Malaysia and Thailand, but slower to catch on in other continental South East Asian countries such as Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia where the authorities have been reluctant to see the benefits of good street art in transforming run down areas.
One of the important characteristics of the South East Asian street art movement is to turn on its head the belief that public art on walls is an indicator of urban decay; in towns like Songkhla and Ipoh the street art has been part of an attempt to rejuvenate the towns suffering a slow down in their local economies.
Local History and Culture
A second defining characteristic of the South East Asian street art movement is that the subject matter on the murals relates to the history and culture of the place where the artwork is located, and importantly the subject matter is often the trivial day to day to activities of the local residents. Mundane activities like eating a meal, going for coffee, travelling around the town and so on are what gives a place its unique character every bit as much as the physical architecture of an urban landscape.
The wall murals in Songkhla all have a meaning, and for the visitors working out that meaning gives insights in the history and identity of the town. For instance, the large mural of an old fashioned cargo ship is a reminder that Songkhla used to a major shipping port; the mural of an RAF Bomber is a reminder that Songkhla was where the Japanese invaded Thailand a launch site for attacks on the British Colonies in the Malay peninsula and Burma; the mural of the Nang Talung shadow puppets dressed in suits is a reminder of an older Southern Thailand cultural identity.
Linking the Picture to the Location
A third characteristic of the South East Asian art movement that is evident in Songkhla street art is the technique of linking the picture to the location by using real three dimensional objects as part of a two dimensional representation. Painted cats cling to real windows ledges and paintings of street corner coffee stalls are actually painted on both sides of a physical street corner.
Thai Attitude to Life
A fourth characteristic is the use of humour. Many of the wall murals in Songkhla are whimsical. By and large people in South East Asia try not to take everything in life too seriously, and nor does South East Asian street art.
Location of Songkhla Old Town
- The wall murals are located in Songkhla’s Old Town area.