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Picture Isarn Boy Soi 4
- Maitree Siriboon
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- Isarn Boy Soi 4
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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, where he studied first at the College of Fine Art and later at Silpakorn University, where he took a degree in Fine Art. 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.
Because of their poverty and the preponderance of the former kingdom of Siam in shaping the national identity, the Isarn, who represent over one-third 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. Whence the ambivalence of Maitree's feelings about his native region. Although he initially had great difficulty finding a place for himself in Bangkok, he ultimately became an artist there and now – unlike most of the Isarn, he says – he feels "contemporary" and confident.
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 big cosmopolitan city and indirectly evokes the issue of male prostitution: the title refers to the "money boys" who converge on Silom Soi 4, a street at the centre of Bangkok's gay nightlife. Maitree Siriboon feels much more at home there than in his home village. 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, points up the need to be a "performer" in order to survive in a city that combines reality and sham.