To be offered the opportunity to do an artist residency overseas was incredible, not in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought something like this would happen to me. I was a stay a home wife and mother for over twenty years, when my children had grown up I studied high school art and started creating, exhibiting and teaching craft based art using predominately recycled materials. I have travelled very little, going overseas a few times with my husband, never on my own and never to Asia. So this residency has been a life changing experience for me. I was thrilled when Flying Arts Alliance, a Queensland based arts organisation, asked me to undertake a cultural exchange with local ladies in Sam Rit, North Eastern Thailand to look at making art/craft products from local waste materials. The project was supported by the Australian government through the former Australia-Thailand Institute, now merged into the Australia-ASEAN Council, and part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Residency itself is well set up with a studio area and large undercover outdoor work area. I utilized both when working with the local ladies. They were a joy to work with always happy and enthusiastic to try new things, laughing at any mistakes and not being discouraged by them but learning from them and moving on. The final exhibition was very impressive both in the quality and quantity of works.
The local people were so welcoming and just accepted me into their community always greeting me warmly. I enjoyed going to the Thursday morning market in the street in front of the Residency each week. I would buy fruit for the week and also purchased a few other things. I always felt they were looking after me and never had any concerns about being overcharged because I was a foreigner. In fact a couple of times after the stall holder told me the price and I bought a few items they gave me a discount even though I had not asked for one. Another time when I picked up a hand of bananas to buy them the stall holder showed that a few of the bananas had dark patches on them and gave me another hand of better ones.
I enjoyed not cooking during my time away, although the Residency does have a communal kitchen, as the shop and restaurant across the road had great food at a very reasonable price. It was also a great opportunity to interact with the locals. I also loved the range of local fruit some of which I had never seen before and it was quite an adventure trying it all.
I visited the school a few times and worked with students to teach them a couple of simple things that can be made from recycled materials and showed them some of the things I had been making with the local ladies. The welcome at the school was overwhelming they were so appreciative and enthusiastic. I would recommend a school visit to any visiting artist as a most rewarding experience. I was thrilled a few days later when I saw some of the teachers and students with a display of the things I had taught them to make at a local festival and was of course again very warmly greeted.
People wanted to take photos of and with me as much as I wanted to with them. As a foreign visitor in an area that is not visited by tourists you are treated as an honoured guest by the local community of genuine friendly country people. It was a rare treat and great honour to have been able to experience genuine rural Thai culture and to be part of this community sharing in the lives of the locals for a time. It was a beautiful experience that will stay with me all my life, so very different from the typical tourist experience that one has when simply holidaying somewhere.
Mary Elizabeth Barron 2016