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Bangkok | The READING Room

The Reading Room is one of Bangkok’s most exciting contemporary art spaces that functions both as an art library and a place for alternative programs to commercial museums and galleries. Young and dynamic Narawan Pathomvat set up The Reading Room in 2009 when she was just 29.

“I always hoped to achieve something concrete professionally before I reached 30 so I barely scraped by that goal”, she says.

Just two years on, the contemporary art library now houses over 1,000 items in a compact three-story shophouse located in Bangkok. As a non-profit organization, The Reading Room operates under The Foundation for the Promotion and Preservation of Thai Art.

Narawan completed her Masters in Arts and Cultural Management at Pratt Institute in New York after graduating from Chulalongkorn University in English Literature. She continued to work in New York for four years in the arts before returning to Asia.

“I didn’t really plan to move back home but you know, sometimes life takes an unexpected turn. It happened to be a happy accident though. I got a researcher job for Hong Kong’s Asia Art Archive (AAA) right after I moved back and it’s one of the best jobs I’ve had. Working for an established art archive like AAA really inspired me to eventually set up The Reading Room,” she shares.

How did The Reading Room get started?

Narawan: When I first got back to Thailand, my knowledge of contemporary Thai art was very limited. I found out that there was a lack of contemporary art library/archive in Thailand. So, after I left Asia Art Archive, I felt it was the right thing to do. I’ve personally collected art books and catalogs since college, so in the beginning I basically opened my collection to the public. I always wanted to share my books…because I know that I would never finish all the books I’ve bought during my lifetime, so why not share them with others?

I wanted The Reading Room to be more than a conventional art library/archive, so I put in active and diverse programming [for] anything that’s relevant to contemporary culture and society. We’ve been doing lots of film screenings, talks, workshop, etc. – all free of charge. This might sound very idealistic or naive, but I am a strong believer in the idea of community.

Lounging about in The Reading Room in Bangkok, does it get any better?

What’s your current state of mind?

N: Work-wise, I’m always anxious and dissatisfied, which I think is good because as a result I perpetually want to improve and progress on many aspects of the organization. But on personal level, I’m very content with my life, who I am, and where I’m heading.

What are your hopes for the year?

N: For The Reading Room, I really hope to get several projects off the ground, and also other collaborative projects with both local and international art institutions. I certainly hope that we manage to secure enough funding for The Reading Room to survive intact!

What are the values that are most important to you as an arts promoter?

N: Overall, I think arts promoter needs to be open-minded and independent, with genuine belief in the arts, high level of integrity, and collaborative mind. What keeps you sane? Work, definitely. Good books. Good films. Good music. My friends. Sports – I’m a huge sports fan. And occasionally, a glass of scotch *grin*

What’s exciting about the art scene in Thailand now?

N: I think the most exciting aspect in the art scene in Thailand at the moment is the emergence of small, hybrid, and independent spaces trying to bring together young people from different fields. These spaces and their activities, together with numbers of artists and creatives collectively in action, make the scene here quite interesting and dynamic.

– Yuni Hadi

Find out more about The Reading Room @ www.readingroombkk.org

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