Tracing family history through waterlines, Bhumikorn Kongtaveelert’s ’25 art offers hope and preservation amidst climate uncertainty

May 2, 2023, 9:57 p.m.

“Your Good Heart Knows How to Swim,” Bhumikorn “Bhu” Kongtaveelert’s ’25  mixed-media solo exhibition, was on display at the McMurtry Building this past week. The show is a timely and powerful example of how the climate crisis can be a source of artistic inspiration.

As climate change continues to wreak havoc, “Do something” has become a common refrain that concerned citizens leverage against politicians and corporations. This slogan is similarly a call to action for ourselves. Kongtaveelert’s work is an evocative exploration of how turning to the past can help chart a way forward.

“I know for a fact that my hometown has been seasonally flooded for a long time, so I wanted to know how I could have a different relationship with flooding,” said Kongtaveelert. The artist sought to showcase “the multiplicity of relationship one can have with water” by revisiting family archive materials.

The exhibit consisted of three distinct yet interconnected renderings of family history — three oil-on-canvas paintings, a seven-minute video loop of Kongtaveelert’s family members talking about the flood and a slideshow of photographs projected onto the center wall. The geometric display of floating, faded pictures evoked a well-worn analog family photo album.

Behind each display were projected images of water — suggesting both the ephemera of our records and how the threat of a rising tide can motivate us to cherish what we have.

Jonathan Calm, associate professor of photography in the department of art and art history, praised Kongtaveelert’s use of multiple media. “I love how the video filled up the whole space, and how the video and painting talk to one another,” Calm commented. As such, the display allowed individuals in the present to talk to those in the past.

The title of the exhibit is adapted from poet Ada Limón’s poem “Flood Coming.” By juxtaposing family photographs and paintings with a backdrop of flooding, Kongtaveelert aimed to reconcile warm memories with climate uncertainties.

“We remember negative emotions more strongly than positive ones. So I think that’s where your ‘good heart knows how to swim’ comes in,” the artist expressed.

As a current Institute for Diversity in the Arts (IDA) fellow, Kongtaveelert carried out this work under the mentorship of IDA director A-lan Holt and artist-in-residence Amara Tabor-Smith, and with the support of other IDA fellows.

IDA cohort member Halima Ibrahim ’24 noted that the diverse mentorship at IDA allowed for students to develop multimedia works. “Some students are doing traditional projects, but there’s also room for installation art, dance, film, etc,” said Ibrahim. “I think there’s no real limit in terms of what IDA allows.”

Kongtaveelert’s installation creatively brings the intimacy of a family gathering into an industrial space. It notes the challenges of taking things for granted in an age when the climate crisis threatens the permanence of records.

Places, people and memories are in constant flux. However, Kongtaveelert’s artwork provided a brief respite from climate anxiety and the dread of not capturing every moment. In an era where people have so many family photographs, the exhibit is “an interesting way of dealing with the family archive,” according to Calm.

“If you want to see someone doing something really fresh with family archives, this is the show,” Calm said.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

Bhumikorn Kongtaveelert is a news desk editor at The Daily.

Blyss Cleveland is an Arts & Life staff writer and Screen columnist for vol. 265. She roots for Mike the entire movie when watching "The Philadelphia Story."

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