Jum Jirapan: The Art, The Bridge, The Self.
Jum Jirapan is a Thai-American artist, making Charlottesville her home since 2016. She was awarded a Collaborative Residency with The Bridge in 2018. She has since begun serving as a programming committee member for The Bridge.
The Art, The Bridge, The Self.
Bleeding Heart, my very first painting, acrylic on paper, May 2012
I picked up art accidentally while posing for my American painter friend back in 2012. I quietly observed and listened to the sounds of his drawing and painting strokes for several weeks. Then, I picked up the charcoal, and a brush—doodling, sketching and painting aimlessly. He taught me a few techniques and let me get lost in a parallel universe. I was having a rough time. The achievement of conforming to, and exceeding the social expectations for a woman in Thailand failed to provide the happiness it once promised. I lost my belief in the beauty of love and life, and my sense of self. I could no longer find meaning in life, even in a blossoming academic career.
Art saved my life. It first helped me cope with the harsh realities of the known world by combating my cynicism with a creative escape. Then it became a tool to brave the unknown, as a compass to navigate and find new worlds. A year later, with one big backpack and a small budget, I left Thailand again—this time for myself. I landed in France, and then in Virginia—an ongoing journey of finding home.
Fast forward to 2017, after painting my pain away for several years, I had my first art exhibition, a solo show titled ‘Life: Poise & Harmony at Radio IQ Gallery on Water Street, Downtown Charlottesville. It featured Suminagashi (an ancient Japanese paper marbling technique) paintings, chronically portraits my life journey from poise and harmony back to years of confusions, and to my birth. But it wasn’t until 2018 that I declared to the world, and myself, that I am an artist.
I was granted an opportunity to have my second exhibition at the Bridge PAI in January 2018. It was a one week group exhibition showcasing Suminagashi paintings from my public art project ’Coexist: A Prayer Flag Project’. Paintings or flags were made by me, locals and visitors to FLOW: The Rivanna River Art Festival at Darden Towe Park on September 30, 2017. Like many others, I was moved by the tragedy at the United The Right rally that took place seven weeks earlier. My faith in humanity wounded, I again turned to art and my public project came to life. I offered a way for the public to heal.
(More at Coexist @ FLOW 2017)
On the opening day of my exhibition at the Bridge, the public support was overwhelming. People lined up to paint their own flags and hung them on the gallery’s ceiling. The painful emotions of August 12 still lingered, but the healing power of art was discussed. To top off the sense of unity, the event benefited both the Bridge PAI and GenR of the IRC’s Community Van Drive.
(More at Coexist @ The Bridge PAI)
Several months later, I applied and got accepted to the Bridge’s 2018 Public Artist Collaborative Art Residency along with two other local artists: Aidyn Mills and Karina Monroy. Together we worked, explored, and immersed. Our exhibition ‘Windows’ was quite a sensation. It was the best exhibition I have had. The amount of participants were triple and everyone participated in the art projects we offered at the reception. It was at this residency that my new project was born. Art Beyond Barriers emphasized my own experience with art. I developed and tested it during my summer residency at the Bridge. It was an art workshop that emphasizes self-exploration, and appreciation. The concept was intended to challenge the prejudices of personal limitation: we all think we cannot do something due to whatever barriers our mind acknowledge, be physical, mental, or financial barriers. It was a three parts program starting with Painting without Sight, Painting in Silence, and So You Think You Can’t Paint. All sessions were equipped with painting techniques that were chosen specifically to unlock the barriers in our mind. If we can paint, shouldn’t we be able to do whatever else we set our mind to do? Think of what this mindset could do for us—opening us to possibilities and opportunities that we didn’t believe existed.
With the great support of the Bridge PAI, I continue contributing to the local arts scene and facilitating self-explorative art classes. My most recent exhibition was Face-to-Face: Portraits of Vibrant City where I was paired with Remy St. Clair, a local radio personality. And my most recent art classes were with the smART Kids program at Clark Elementary School. What an eye opening and self-affirming experience I was honored to have. I learned from Remy and the children as much as from my own self-reflection.
(More at smART Kids w/ Jum Jirapan)
Art is the bridge to a new self, a new life, and many opportunities. Through art, I found my purpose in life again. And through art, a bridge was extended to me by a local nonprofit art institute that its sole purpose is bridging diverse communities through the arts—the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative.
People always comment on how brave I am. That despite not having been trained or educated properly in art education; I chose to become an artist. Despite self-doubts, the fear of the unknown, and financial discomfort; I still stick with it. My response? ‘No I am not. The alternative is simply deadly.’ Art is the only way I won’t lose myself. And even if I do, losing myself in the therapeutic sphere of art, I gain my ground. Therefore, here I am inviting all of you to find yourself through arts. In whatever form you choose: painting, drawing, dancing, playing music, rapping, the list goes on; its therapeutic power shall open up your eyes and your hearts to the unknown world where possibility is endless. Wanting to rebel against the odd in a non-self-destructive way? Try art!
Jum Jirapan is a Thai-American artist, making Charlottesville her home since 2016. Born, raised, and educated in Thailand with M.A. in TESOL from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Love and life fascinate her; she always strives to understand and find a way to live fully. Thus, they brought her to painting after conforming to the social norms failed her miserably. She paints her way out of misery and now devotes herself to help others through art and education.