In her Chiang Mai studio, Thai designer Kachama K. Perez weaves intricate textiles by hand in a style developed over years spent studying with hilltribe and minority communities. Her tapestries have received wide critical acclaim and are sold in shops around the world. As part of her outspoken support of textiles as a fine art medium, Kachama has displayed her work in galleries across Thailand. Her latest exhibition, “Songs of My Soul,” will be on display at Tamarind Village Chiang Mai from November 20. Here, she talks with Bangkok 101 about her work and inspiration.
What got you started with upcycling and incorporating found products into your tapestries?
A trip to the sea influenced concepts I later labelled “Tears of the Sea” and “Trash/Recycle.” I use traditional methods by preference to express my passion for textiles made from natural fibres. But as any contemporary artist of his/her time will tell you, I love to explore new fields of expression. By blending traditional and contemporary elements, I can do that. The result sometimes is surprisingly good—like when I weave silk and plastic into décor (furniture) and accessories (bags).
Which hill tribe communities does your work represent? How long were you learning from them?
I spent two intermittent years with the Karen, Hmong, Lahu, and Yao, where I picked up a lot of their styles and techniques. In my work, I’ve used traditional costumes and fabrics from hilltribes in Thailand, Laos, Burma, and Nagaland, as well as a few from China. I created one line called “Keeping Lanna Heritage and Hill Tribe Culture Alive” in which I incorporated all those original textiles.
Where does Thai craft stand both locally and on the global stage?
The art and design scenes have been booming for the last ten years, but sadly they still remain very selective, elitist, and exclusive here in our beautiful country. Craft, wherever it comes from, is the imprint of a nation, [one] that other nations will always recognize as genuine and authentic. So craft will always put a particular culture, like ours, in the centre of stage for all to view and absorb.
For every old tradition we keep alive, there are countless others we lose in the passage of time. Is there a sense of maintenance in carrying on the tradition Thai craftwork?
It’s sad that many traditions are forgotten, but at the same time many are often re-interpreted in modern ways. This can help keep the old ways of doing things alive in some semblance. For me, for sure, there is a will to keep certain traditions alive, but I’m afraid many will ineluctably fade away, as less and less of our younger generations care to learn about the old ways of doing things.
What are your favourite materials to work with? What are your dyes made from?
Natural fibres are my favourite, but I also enjoy the look and feel of antique fabrics. Pearls, rare beads, old Roman glass, semi-precious stones, straw—I love to mix things together. I incorporate lots of natural materials, such as leaves, barks, seeds, and flowers, into my textiles. And I mostly use vegetable dyes, although I’ve also used mineral dyes when the opportunity has arisen
How is a humble tradition like weaving compatible with fine art? Is this a modern relationship?
Yes and no—the correct answer would take too long to answer here. Weaving and fine art have always been compatible. Tapestries that have been found in Greece, Egypt, and Persia are thousands of years old, but to really appreciate high craftsmanship you have to look at the tapestries made in Europe during the 16th to 18th centuries. My wish is that weaving will be considered fine art long into the future. And it will be, as long as there are people who still learn the old ways.