Growing up Gridthiya Gaweewong says her career aspirations vacillated between her interest in languages and her love of art. When the time came in high school to pick a specialist subject, she chose languages and studied English and German. A bachelor’s degree in English from Ramkhamhaeng University followed and then a peripatetic period which included working as an English teacher and librarian at a refugee camp in Phanat Nikhom. As the years went by, however, her passion for art never faded. “Somehow I was always trying to find my way back to art,” she says. And find her way back she did, but not until 1994 when she finally took the plunge and decided to follow her true calling. “After 10 years, I went to pursue a master’s degree in art administration at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago,” says the 53-year-old.
Following her graduate degree, in 1996 Gridthiya teamed up with established artists such as Montien Boonma and Kamol Phaosavasdi to co-found Project 304, an alternative art space at the Co-Op building opposite Samsen train station which sought to facilitate art exhibitions and promote public access to contemporary art. “Unfortunately we had to close the site down in 2003,” she says. “But despite not having a permanent home, we still keep the project going with occasional events like the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival.”
She has been with the Jim Thompson Art Center since 2006 and is grateful to be able to combine her passion with work. Her favourite aspect of the job—the most exciting and rewarding aspect of it—is the research. “I love to go out and visit studios,” she says with enthusiasm. “I get to meet different artists, gather information and conceptualise ideas.”
Enjoyable it may be but Gridthiya admits it’s also a double-edged sword. “My problem is that I find it extremely difficult to finalise the selection of artists. I want to work with everybody but I have to make choices and cut people out and I don’t like doing that.”
Her career has been a fruitful one and looking ahead, she has no intention of slowing down. “We want to make sure that we maintain our standards in terms of the quality of the projects we produce,” she says. “We also intend to increase our focus on regional art projects and in the next few years we want to expand to create a network within the southern hemisphere with artists from South America and Africa.”
With responsibility for organising three exhibitions per year on average, the management of her team and the expansion of the art centre, the passionate curator is undoubtedly kept busy. As if that were not enough, Gridthiya is also currently pursuing a doctoral degree in fine arts at Chulalongkorn University. But when she isn’t swamped with work, the art guru likes to exercise. She also enjoys reading and catching up with friends and family.
She is also something of a foodie with a keen interest in authentic cuisines from the northern regions of Thailand. “The fact that I was born in Chiang Rai and raised in Chiang Mai probably has a bearing. If I had to pick another career, it would definitely involve food,” she laughs. “I would like to discover old forgotten recipes that you cannot find in regular restaurants and write about them.”
And her definition of success? “Oddly enough, for me it’s the ability to say no to certain projects,” she says. “It’s when you have the luxury of choosing the projects that interest you most and those who you want to work with.”