Artist's Statement: Navin Rawanchaikul talks about his global project Navinland

Navin Rawanchaikul interviewed by Mark Sheerin | 15 August 2013

Artist's Statement: In his own words . . . Navin Rawanchaikul talks about his two week journey on the Ikon Gallery Slow Boat in search of people sharing his first name.

Colour photo of an artist posed beside a canal boat
Navin with customised Slow Boat© Mark Sheerin
"This project called Navinland, I actually started back in 2006. We had the first project called the Navin Party together with my friend Tyler Russell. He’s a Canadian artist. I told him I’d like to do this kind of an idea and find people named Navin and he said, yeah, we can call it the Navin Party.

We didn’t want to be any nationality or from Thai culture in particular. I was born as a Thai and I grew up in an Indian/Thai culture because my family was Indian. But I wasn’t happy about which community I should belong to. And I married a Japanese woman, and my daughters and my wife come from Japan and Thailand.

Sometimes it’s difficult to fit with Thailand. You know, you have to talk about Buddha, etc. So I come up with this idea of Navins, because finding people with the name Navin - just by sound - they have a lot in different cultures.

The original name, Navin, comes from the Sanskrit language, it’s an ancient Indian language, and that means ‘new’. In Thailand we have borrowed from the language, Sanskrit, but with another meaning. It means discovery or the Navin, the traveller, the seafarer. They also have this Navin in Gaelic culture, it’s a big family name there.

That’s the idea behind the Navin party and in Thailand we’ve been doing many projects in different countries and finding out about local culture. For instance, in Korea we found the Nabin because when they spell my name they don’t have the ‘v’ sound so it’s Nabin.

I don’t want to say that it’s political but in China we called it Coalition from Comrade Navin, which had a bit of humour but was also quite critical of the social structure.

In the UK, I’ve been looking on social media and they have so many Navins, mostly they are Indian or Pakistani.

And in this town, Coventry there’s one famous Navin, called Navin Kundra. He’s a famous singer, a Bollywood singer. I tried to contact him through Ikon Gallery and somehow I think that he was busy with his concerts. So I told Ikon don’t worry, we’ll try and find other Navins.

During the trip, taking this boat, actually I didn’t find any Navins. It was more of a challenge to go and see what Navin means. And with this boat, what does Navinland mean to the people when the people pass by? I’ve been explaining to people what I’m looking for.

But I came across another Navin called the navvies. And actually they were called the navigators in those days. And I said, ‘Yeah, that is the Navin of English culture’. And I’ve been looking and searching and talking to people and that’s kind of my connection. That is the same word, right, navigators?

So we want to create another body of work, a comic book, will be kind of like a documentary of this journey, but in this I meet a navvy, he kind of takes me to the 18th century and tells me the story of the canal and some of the peripheral figures who worked here. So it’s kind of reintegration of cultures and Navins and navvies and what it has meant to me to be on the boat."

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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