Chiang Mai’s Warorot Market, which dates back to the 19th century, is best characterized by the word “epic”: The densely packed stalls and stores feature inexhaustible rows of wares, from vegetables and chickens to brightly dyed textiles and plastic knick-knacks. Likewise, the market’s population has become an equally diverse cross-section of religious and ethnic identities over the years. Artist Navin Rawanchaikul grew up working in his family’s fabric store amid the complex, cultural mélange. To celebrate the market’s centennial anniversary, he organized an arts festival, called Mahākād, inspired by the market’s history, that included site-specific installations and events as well as two-dimensional works such as historical photographs; portraits of its current inhabitants; and a vast, monochromatic mural depicting 200 community members. In reference to the international scope of the market, visitors were given maps of the space, and leaflets designed to look like “passports,” which could be stamped at each art station. After receiving ten stamps, visitors were eligible to receive a free magazine that recounts Mahākād’s history. Directed by Rawanchaikul’s Navin Production Studio, and in collaboration with several community groups, the festival’s accompanying activities included workshops, a tour of the project sites led by Rawanchaikul and a panel discussion about community engagement in contemporary art practices. The festival’s title references the ancient Indian text Mahābhārata–a complex, network of characters and plots that reflects the interwoven relationships embedded in the market.
Rawanchaikul uses the realm of the everyday as both the subject and venue of his art. He often creates his work under the banner of Navin Production Co., Ltd., his production company that he founded in 1994 and launched by producing bottled, polluted water from a canal in Chiang Mai. In 1995, he initiated “Navin Gallery Bangkok,” his taxicab-turned-mobile art gallery.