Songprapha: Reclining Queer Nudes

It might be more than a coincidence that Oat’s latest exhibition Songprapha shares the name of the road on which his new art gallery is located. The name, meaning “bathing in light” in Thai, essentially describes the nature of his latest collection, drawings of nude male bodies basking in the light within his Songprapha gallery compiled over a one-year period. 

“I am a 19th century queer” 

To say that Oat Montien is the modern day Oscar Wilde wouldn’t be an exaggeration. A skilled writer, exhibitor and artist, he sparks a conversation around LGBTQ issues through his nude male drawings and doing so while looking fabulously, thanks to his keen sense of fashion. Weaving art history and his own experience living in Europe with his fascination for astrology and all things 19th century, he cuts a fun and dashing figure in the art scene.

Looking at the nude drawings surrounding us, Oat elaborates:

“Reclining nudes are conventionally of female bodies. The questions we often hear when people see these artworks are usually things like ‘Are they sleeping?’, ‘Are they conscious?’ or even ‘Did they even consent to be drawn like this?’ I wonder if the same questions would be raised if it were male bodies.”

Let the light guide us

The models depicted here aren’t your typical for-hire models, they had to go through the artist’s ‘process’ before they could pose for him.

Made up of friends and strangers, these models come from different jobs and backgrounds. Like picking a tarot card, each was made to pick a pair of images from a book of collage that Oat’s made out of renaissance art vintage porn. He would then ask them a series of personal questions with topics ranging from sexual abuse, sex under the influence of drugs and even their HIV status. Based on what they chose and their answers, he would adjust the lighting, props, and composition accordingly.

Queer bodies from the outsider’s perspective, through by a queer’s eye

“For us to look or feel sexy and desirable, it has to be from a white person’s perspective,” Oat said on behalf of all thin, dark-skinned, effeminate gay boys, who he referrred to as “the bottom of food chain” among the gays. In our society, we see a lot of skin-whitening commercials and actors with jacked up bodies. This kind of exoticism from the western perspective is reminiscent of Orientalism, which is one of the characteristics we see in the late 19th-century art. Through paintings, the oriental allure captured the imagination of westerners who travelled to the continent via trade routes. Oat wanted to try to see things from those same lenses. 

“It’s a space where I really got to talk to myself and see my reflection through the model next to me. The model who has the same skin tone as I am, who’s also Thai and speaks the same language as I do. I came to understand that I too am beautiful and that allowed me to appreciate myself more.”

Why queer art matters

When asked why he decided to focus on naked bodies and queerness, he told us that when he was little, his mom had a karaoke bar with a monthly party where girls would go and dance naked on stage. His job was to control the stage lighting, shining it on those naked bodies. 

On the other hand, he told us that he felt obliged to make art that feels the most sincere. His work is all about feelings that can’t be faked. Bold and authentic, this is the kind of artist he’s loved and known for.

Finally, Oat emphasizes that the reason why he chose to focus on queerness is because we’re lacking artists and writers who are willing to speak out. “We don’t have enough examples we could look up to and I won’t stop until our heteronormative society becomes truly equal.”

Check out Songprapha at Bodhisattava Gallery from 10.00 – 20.00, every Sat-Sun until February 28, 2021.