BANGKOK: Buffalo is a byword for stupidity in Thai culture and an insult often doled out by city dwellers to denigrate their rural compatriots.
But one photographer is taking on the stereotype — and Thailand’s ulcerous social divide — by elevating the beast to art.
“Buffalo are the symbol of our country’s labour class, they should be respected,” says Maitree Siriboon, the 33-year-old who has been layering colourful coats of paint on dozens of buffaloes in his rice-farming village.
Photos of the lumbering animals, many bearing references to famous works of art, are now on display in an airy Bangkok gallery space.
The exhibit is loaded with symbolism in a country wracked by a political struggle between the urban elite and a rural majority hungry for a greater slice of the economic pie.
Bangkokians have long used “buffalo” as a pejorative term to put down farmers and rural migrants who have flocked to the capital for low-paid work.
“We still use the word buffalo with a rude and negative connotation that means uneducated person,” Maitree told AFP, sporting a traditional sarong from a poor northeast region known as Isaan.
He is hoping to encourage fellow Isaan people to take pride in their distinct dialect and culture, which has closer links with neighbouring Laos.
“From my own experiences, I used to be mocked and looked down on because of my face and flat nose,” he said of his time in Bangkok.
“But people have to understand that Thais come from different ethnicities… we should build our own pride so that the society will accept us.”-AFP