Bangkok, Thailand, April 17, 2023 / TRAVELINDEX / Blue Elephant Cooking School & Restaurant Bangkok was recently the venue of the launch of a unique, coffee table book titled “TAI, A Woven Culture” a pictorial chronology about silk intertwined with a unique history and culture and the people involved, by renowned Belgian photographer Hans Roels and an avid Thai textile aficionado and collector Napajaree Suanduenchai from Bangkok.
Thailand’s fascinating silk history is not really Thai but rather TAI. Thailand is the name of the country and Tai is the name of the indigenous people who migrated from China to Southeast Asia. They established Tai kingdoms that expanded, dominated and co-existed with each other through the centuries. What unites all Tai people is their remarkable, unique weaving culture at the heart of it is yellow silk whose thick, smooth fibre is processed manually.
This unique book, which portrays the story of TAI silk, began over 20 years ago when Belgian photographer Hans Roels who was travelling and shooting in northern Thailand met Napajaree Suanduenchai or Nim, a Tai textile collector from Bangkok. Together they decided to document the different Thai sub-groups who made these wonderful silk garments, and the book is the result of their combined passions.
They began in Thailand where different TAI communities directed them to other sub-groups in Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, South China and Assam in India. Their journey was dictated by the amazing people they met who express their own identity through weaving. Each different Tai community had their own unique patterns and traditions. The people who spun the precious fibre, wove it into timeless patterns. They connected their past and their present through their craft and their colours. These great artists were mostly modest farmers who grew rice for food and farm silk to showcase their culture and preserve their identity.
On their travels throughout Thailand, Nim and Hans also came across ethnic minority groups who were not Tai. These people lived in the mountainous regions between the Thai valleys and have existed here for generations long before the Tai migration. They were willing to share their own unique and fascinating cultures and their distinctive textiles. Aside from the precious silk and weaving culture featured in the book, the portraits of the people who created these textiles are also in the spotlight – every individual captured and print for posterity, part of a living fabric and proud culture.
“Here what you really have is people who participated with their heart and gave their full confidence and trust and that’s something that especially struck me a lot and touched me very deeply in this project,” said Hans Roels. “This book makes you the witnesses of an unfortunately fast disappearing culture. Due to modernization, the young generation no longer chooses this time-consuming weaving art. I’m very happy to have started this project in time and to show you the remnants of a beautiful, unforgettable culture. We hope that this book brings you close to the TAI, that it shows you the essence of the TAI and even allows you to look through the Tai’s eyes,” added Hans.
“Discovering these TAI textiles reminds me of the beauty of these people who are farmers and who create beautiful work through their textiles and show their identity and dignity of being TAI,” said Khun Nim.
TAI, A Woven Culture was launched in Brussels amidst much interest and excitement earlier in March 2023. At the Thailand launch at Blue Elephant Bangkok, the books were on display and on sale at a special price of Baht 2,700 (retail price @Baht 3,200).
A large format hard cover book with 348 pages, approximately 206 colour photos, TAI, A Woven Culture is printed in Sweden and is lead HUV printed on uncoated, unbleached FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper supporting responsible forestry that is durable and will stand the test of time. The book is printed with 100% wind energy. River Books is the publisher of Tai, A Woven Culture.
For more information about the making of TAI, A Woven Culture, please contact Hans Roels, tel. 095 060 6117 or +32 496 25 37 73, and for those interested in buying the book, please call River Books, tel. 02 225 0139 or 098 495 4142
About Mr. Hans Roels and Mrs. Napajaree Suanduenchai
Mr. Hans Roels is a passionate photographer from Brussels, Belgium who combines creativity and craftsmanship in his prolific artwork. Always keen on exploring new cultures both in Belgium and in all parts of the world he has been involved in various cultural and commissioned projects resulting in dazzlingly beautiful and powerful images, exhibitions and books. He is particularly interested in making group photos, in which according to his own words everyone counts and made visible.
Mrs. Napajaree Suanduenchai (Nim) is a textile collector from Bangkok. Coming from a family that has been trading in Tai textiles for generations she followed in her mother’s footsteps and ran Prayer Textile Gallery in Bangkok. She also founded the “Tai Textile Collectors Circle” and is one of the founders of the ‘Tai Textile Society’ in Bangkok.