Sensing Silver: The Chiang Mai Workshop

By Thomas Manuel

The Chiang Mai leg of the Thailand workshop began with visits to the Chiang Mai House Museum where different traditional residential structures had been preserved for posterity and the Thailand Creative and Design Center (TCDC) which is a public learning space to foster design and creativity. At TCDC, the Director introduced the vision of the center and the city of Chiang Mai’s vision to transform itself into a Creative City and cultural hub.

On the second day, the Chiang Mai case study team of Pranom, Komson and Pijika introduced their site. Chiang Mai has three periods of history beginning with the Mung-Rai dynasty, and then it came under the control of the Burmese and finally the current period of rule by Thai king. The area around their site, Wua Lai, had silver workers from the time of the Burmese and had been renowned for their skill for centuries. There are three major temples in the neighborhood and they are each associated with a certain craft – Iron with Sri Supan, Silver with Muensan and Lacquer with Nantharam.  These temples still remain the center of the community.

In the 90s, the area began to decline and interest in silver craft waned. The introduction of the Sunday walking street boosted activity and led to huge growth in activity in the neighborhood. Pijika described how local wisdom was disappearing as the neighborhood saw homogeneous transformation and tourism-led gentrification. Three students of Chiang Mai University presented their fieldwork, showing off their excellent illustrations of silver workers’ residences and workshops.

As an activity, the entire team split into groups and began wandering the streets of Chiang Mai to get a feel for the neighborhood. The resulting presentations were extremely interesting. Tessa’s team, for example, titled their presentation ‘Sensing Wua Lai’ and discussed the flower blooms along the way, the sounds of dogs and the gates and gardens of residents.

The Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia teams also discussed the state of their case studies. For the Philippines caste study, Tessa and her team described a tour of their neighborhood with one of its most ignored residents, a homeless woman, as a guide. The experiences and voices of the homeless of Escolta came out through family trees, maps and cooking workshops. For Vietnam case study, Erik discussed the broad base of ethnographic techniques deployed and codification of responses collected that has been done so far. The workshop ended with an opportunity to use the tools of the silver workers of Muensan and craft small designs that the attendees could take home.

Overall, it was a stimulating and engrossing workshop and a vital opportunity for all the members of each case study to come together and discuss the progress of their work.

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