We’re kicking off the year of art in Singapore with an array of events to look forward to at Singapore Art Week 2023, happening from now till January 15. From the inaugural edition of ART SG—the first and biggest art fair launch in Asia-Pacific in a decade—to the return of Light to Night at the National Gallery, there’s something for art lovers of all stripes.
Among the exciting line-up of art experiences is a unique collaboration that brings art, fashion and food together at The Warehouse Hotel. There, acclaimed Thai artist Pinaree Sanpitak showcases a new commission Breast Stupas Valentino (2023)—which reimagines the house’s Toile Iconographe—displayed alongside her previous works including the Breast Stupa Topiary (2013). Breast Stupa Cookery Valentino, the ephemeral part of this holistic collaboration, comprises an invitation to eat and drink from vessels created by Pinaree and a menu created in collaboration with Thai husband-and-wife team, chef Joe Napol Jantraget and pastry chef Saki Hoshino.
One of Southeast Asia’s most respected female artists, Pinaree’s works span across various mediums including painting, sculpture and installation. A recurring motif in her work is the ‘breast stupa’, which melds the sacred Buddhist icon with the symbol of femininity, fertility, and sensuality—expressed in different forms and materials.
We speak to Pinaree about her practice, her collaboration with Valentino, and upcoming projects.
How did you discover your passion, and what has shaped and influenced your artistic journey?
When I was 19, I went to The School of Fine Arts and Design at the University of Tsukuba, Japan on a 5-year scholarship. I started out with photography works and that experience became my foundation. I was the only foreign undergraduate student that year and the professors let me explore, so I was fortunate to find my language quite early. My first series of works were collage, mixed media, photography and other materials like paper, then I moved on to paintings, sculptures, installations, and interactive work. I started the breast works in 1994, two months after I gave birth to my son, and continued exploring it for almost 30 years.
The ‘breast stupa’ is a recurring motif in your work. What is it about this form that fascinates you and has its significance changed for you?
I coined the term ‘breast stupa’ in 2001. It started as a single upright breast form, kind of like a monument, then it became elongated, and then bodies were added. It grew into sculptural pieces that explore the sensory perceptions like touch, movement and sound. Part of it is semi-biographical, from personal experience; I also felt I was becoming more grounded—so I combined the concepts of the sacred and the sensual.
Because I’ve worked with a variety of material, I find that the precedent changes. The core concept remains unchanged but the works evolved based on the materials used and my experiences over time, so they each tell a different story. It’s fun and interesting for me to see my works evolve.
Tell us about this special collaboration with Valentino. How did the Valentino Toile Iconographe pattern come into play?
I was inspired by the runway photo of the model wearing the Valentino Toile Iconographe on her face—I saw some possibilities and asked Valentino to send me some fabric so I could see and feel the material to kickstart the process. However, this happened right before the holidays with everyone taking off, so I couldn’t wait for the fabric to arrive; I asked my son [Shone Puipia, a fashion designer] to make a prototype from a Buddhist sculpture that I have.
I thought I could give it some structure in the factory but realised that it’s like an umbrella; we had to put in a bottom and stuff it to make it stand. When the fabric arrived, we also had to align the VLogo patterns. We didn’t know if we could achieve this—stuffing it was a challenge because it’s so large; it’s about gravity and physics. One breast stupa weighs 40kg. It was pretty intense (laughs) but I’m happy with the outcome.
I have worked with textile companies but it’s my first time working with a fashion house. I’m very grateful that Valentino is open to having me use their fabrics in my work. They generously sent me 15m of each fabric, one in silk and one in poplin, which I used for the sculptures.
As my new creations were going to be on display at The Warehouse Hotel, I thought I could contrast them with my stainless steel Breast Stupa Topiaries (2013) and present it with my background of work—vessels, objects and books—on the shelves in The Den to weave the story relating to Valentino’s iconic codes.
What are your thoughts on this collaboration where art, fashion and food intersect?
It’s a celebration of the body as the site of the sacred and the sensual. I see the Valentino Toile Iconographe on the bodies of models and on my own sculptures in a similar view to the Maison’s values of freedom, community, inclusivity, dream and interacting with the stainless-steel sculptures as a harmony of contradictions. It’s about working together and working with different people, trusting and learning from each other to achieve the best outcome.
Do you have a favourite art medium to work in, and why?
I always go back to paper and collage. When I think of a show, it’s like a collage for me. I have to make the pieces work out—whether they are in harmony or contradict—and create a story upon layers. That’s how my mind works. It’s hard to erase a mistake on paper so you have to be conscious about it. When it comes to my sculptures, I like to showcase paper fibre—it’s strong when dry but tears easily when wet and I like that contrast. Paper is basic and fragile, but also beautiful and strong.
What is your relationship with fashion like?
It all started when my son decided to go to fashion school; he was in the 10th grade. I had to find out and try to understand what he was getting into. I think fashion is a work of art—it involves a lot of craftsmanship, dedication and hard work. Personally, I dress in many ways because I have to go from the studio to events and there needs to be flexibility.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My personal experiences, materials, what I see, and sometimes from themes and other people, like curators.
Could you tell us about your upcoming projects?
I have more ideas with this fabric but it takes time to experiment so I look forward to more collaborations with the house. I’m thinking of stacking and cutting it to create something sculptural. I have been preparing a project together with my son; we’ll do a show together because we were already exchanging ideas and using each other’s materials. I’m also in the momentum of painting now, continuing from The Milk of Dreams presented at La Biennale di Venezia as well as collaborating with a designer on paper sculptures that wiggle—it’s an exploration of balance and humour.
The ‘Breast Stupas Valentino’ will be on display at the lobby of The Warehouse Hotel from January 10 till January 25 2023. Maison Valentino will donate proceeds from the sale of ‘Breast Stupas Valentino’ to United Women Singapore dedicated to women’s empowerment and gender equality.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.