This Art Exhibit is a Celebration of Breasts and Stupas

Pinaree Sanpitak, one of Thailand's most internationally acclaimed artists, celebrates the sacred and the sensual with two interactive—even edible—exhibits in Bangkok. By Vincent Vichit-Vadakan.

Oct 22, 2020

If you think about it, plenty of people consider the female chest a type of temple. For anyone familiar with the work of Thai artist Pinaree Sanpitak, Breast Stupa Cookery: The World Turns Upside Down at Bangkok’s Nova Contemporary is just the latest evolution of her career-long exploration of femininity, maternity, sensuality and spirituality, seen through her plump, inviting interpretations of the female anatomy. 

Sanpitak’s artistic interest in the shape dates back to her Breast Works, that coincided with the birth of her son (today, a cutting-edge fashion designer, Shone Puipia) in 1993. She introduced the concept of the breast stupa in 2001. “I thought it was a beautiful shape,” she says. “You could say it’s a self portrait. It grew with me and evolved with me.”

The show, along with its sister exhibit, titled House Calls at nearby 100 Tonson Foundation, draws a parallel between the sensuous breast shape and that of the stupa, the domed structure found in Buddhist temples, a recurring theme of Sanpitak’s over the years. “I combine the breast and the stupa, the sacred and the sensual,” she says—and the seemingly incongruous juxtaposition is a moving one. “It’s about emotions.” For the artist, all reactions, from surprise to amusement to the occasional puerile giggle, are welcome. 

But most viewers leave enchanted. “Pretty much they get it,” she says about her audience. Only once does she recall somebody raising an eyebrow. When talking about her Noon/Nom (Rest Your Head/Milk) installation made up of oversized nippled cushions that people were invited to relax on, she was told that it wouldn’t fly in prudish America. “You probably couldn’t have kids playing with boobs in a public space,” she recalls, chuckling. 

As the breast also represents the nurturing mother figure, how better to signify that, especially in East Asia, than with food? For the opening of the show, which features extra-large canvases and cage-like wooden stupas, she asked chefs Napol “Joe” Jantraget and Saki Hoshino, who run Michelin-starred 80/20, to cater under their new nam prik (chili relish) brand Krok.

Photos by Pinaree Sanpitak.

It was Joe’s idea to get guests to choose their own “breast stupa” bowl, some complete with stylized nipple for nestling in the palm of your hand, from a table of ceramics produced by different artists—Aor Sutthiprapha, Don Moo Din, InClay, Mo Jirachaisakul and Pim Sudhikam—who followed Sanpitak’s specs, but gave them their own glazes and finishes. The chef couple will also host exclusive seven-course dinners at the venue as part of the Breast Stupa Cookery experience. 

A café in the gallery serves sweets and drinks designed especially for the exhibit. Not to be too on the nose about the theme, but the menu includes breast cookies baked in Tokyo by Katayama Chiffon, creamy ice creams and perky marshmallows from Saki’s new dessert joint Yora, custom-made buxom popsicles from Chimp Tim, jiggly ginger jelly from Tokyo Hot, and mounds of brown butter financiers baked by the artist herself. 

Photo by Pinaree Sanpitak.

Just a short walk away, House Calls takes household vessels and coifs them with layers of natural paper that form breast stupas. Displayed on shelves built for the exhibit that sway as viewers walk past, the works give an effect that is both familiar and unsettling. “It’s playful but it also gives you the impression that [it’s] not so stable,” Sanpitak says. “The home may not be as safe as you think.” Others may just see a sea of bobbing boobies. Giggle away—Sanpitak is OK with that, too.

***

Breast Stupa Cookery: the World Turns Upside Down and Breast Stupa Cookery Café, Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. until November 21, at Nova Contemporary. Special seven-course dinners will be served by 80/20 on October 30 and November 7 (Bt4,000 per person), two seatings of 15 people each night: rsvp@novacontemporary.com.

House Calls is open Thursday and Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., until April 4, 2021, at 100 Tonson Foundation. Follow their page for storytelling, performances, workshops, talks and other events throughout the run.

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