Maitree Siriboon was born in 1983 in Ubon Ratchatanee province, in the Isarn region of Northeastern Thailand. At the age of fifteen he moved to Bangkok to study at the College of Fine Art, later obtaining a degree from Silpakorn University. His photos have earned him a number of awards in Thailand and have been published all over the world, notably in Esquire, Elle and Wallpaper.
The domination of the former Kingdom of Siam means that the Isarn, who represent two-thirds of the Thai population, are often victims of stereotyping: they have funny names, do menial work and eat smelly food. Paradoxically, however, the province is seen by city dwellers as the last bastion of ‘true’ Thai culture, even though the region’s identity is predominantly Lao, which explains the ambivalence of Maitree’s feelings about his native region. Although he initially had great difficulty finding a place for himself in Bangkok, this is where he became an artist and acquired the self-confidence he claims is lacking among the Isarn.
For his first series, Isarn Boy Dream, he invited foreigners to his childhood home, asking them to pose in a traditional village. Isarn Boy Soi 4 takes an idealised look at the experience of rural youth transplanted into a cosmopolitan city, indirectly evoking the issue of male prostitution through the ‘money boys’ who converge on Silom Soi 4, a street at the centre of Bangkok’s gay nightlife. Maitree now feels at home here. In his images he shows himself naked and wearing angel’s wings: an allusion to the memory of being seen as some kind of freak when he arrived in the city, and a warning against judging the money boys too hastily. “If I hadn’t become an artist,” he says, “I would have gone the same way. There’s no clear dividing line between the ‘undesirables’ in the clubs and the ‘nice people’ in the temples. Which doesn’t mean I’d like to see all the young guys from Isarn end up on Silom Soi 4.” In this series we see him posing with Western sugar daddies, naked like him. The theatrical quality of the photos, enhanced by the red cloth backdrop, highlights the need to be a ‘performer’ in order to survive in a city that combines reality and sham.
Gilles Massot, Wubin Zhuang, curators
Text from the catalogue-book "Photoquai", co-edited by Musée du Quai Branly- Actes-Sud