Reviews/Visual Art

A playful (and glittery) search for authenticity

2 October 2018

Review: Nathan Beard, “Siamese Smize”
Turner Galleries ·
Review by Jess Boyce ·

Walking into one of Turner Galleries’ Engine Rooms to view Nathan Beard’s solo show, “Siamese Smize”, I suddenly feel uneasy, as though I am being watched by 22 pairs of eyes.

Woman whose face is obscured by a glittering mask
The masks flatten the faces of people in the portraits into coloured or patterned shapes. Nathan Beard, Figure 3. ‘Siamese Smile’, Thailand 1970-75

The eyes belong to the people in a collection of photographs found in Beard’s mother’s abandoned home in Thailand, the faces of which have been masked with glittering Swarovski crystals, leaving only their eyes exposed. Their lips hover in front of the image, printed on the acrylic face of the frame.

The masks flatten the faces of people in the portraits into coloured or patterned shapes. Whilst this uncanny shift is slightly discomforting, the expressions on the faces still appear pleasant and calm; as if this visage can be deciphered solely from the eyes. The word “smize”, referenced in the title of the show, is slang for “smiling with the eyes”. It’s used here in amalgamation with “Siamese Smile”, a phrase adopted by Thai tourism industry in the late 1980s which fetishized and simplified “Thainess” for a Western audience.

The statement from Beard that accompanies the show goes on to explain that there are “at least 13 different expressions for smiles” in the Thai language. In contrast, Beard has used mostly staged portraits of similar expression and body language. This unoffending body language changes as one moves past each image. As the floating lips position in relation to the face shifts, so too does our interpretation of the wearers’ smile, from pleasant to bizarre.

The kitschy crystal embellishments reference both a contemporary South-East Asian aesthetic of clothes and accessories, adorned with crystals and pop culture, and traditional Thai patterns found on ceramics and silks. Through their value, and painstaking application, the crystals also memorialise the subjects of the portraits, honouring Beard’s relation to them as family and as a connection to his own Thai heritage.

Yet another highly polished (and glittering) body of work from Beard, the portraits in “Siamese Smize” successfully balance the viewer between uneasiness and familiarity. Asking what is truly behind a smile, or a perceived national identity, this exhibition is a playful search for authenticity as Beard explores his Thai-Australian heritage.

Nathan Beard’s “Siamese Smize” is one of four solo shows at Turner Galleries until October 13. 

Pictured top: Detail from Nathan Beard, “Haltribe Sawatdee Thailand” digital print, printed acrylic, swarovski elements, 52.8 x 72.8 x 4cm, 2018.

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

Author —
Jess Boyce

Jess Boyce is an artist and curator with a passion for the promotion of Perth arts. Jess has worked in a range of community, commercial and artist run spaces across Perth and co-founded Cool Change Contemporary in 2018. She has joyful playground memories of the wombat shaped spring rockers.

Past Articles

Read Next

  • Kiki Saito and Matthew Lehmann in Nils Christe's Before Nightfall. Photo by Bradbury Photography copy Two West Australian ballet dancers on stage - a woman is perched on one pointe, her other leg extended upwards in a split. She arches back, supported by a male dancer. Hitting high notes at 70

    Hitting high notes at 70

    25 June 2022

    Traversing a range of human emotion, West Australian Ballet’s latest triple bill is an evening of beautifully performed contemporary dance, reports Kim Balfour.

    Reading time • 6 minutesDance
  • Cabaret festival. A singer wearing a fur hat is on stage with a pianist, guitarist and drummer. We can see the dress circle seats of the theatre in the background lit in a greenish light. Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    23 June 2022

    A cabaret veteran and opera performer bring very different interpretations of the greats of classical, jazz and pop in the second week of the Perth International Cabaret Festival, writes David Zampatti

    Reading time • 6 minutesCabaret
  • A semi circle of 8 singers, with one standing in the centre, facing an audience. They are in a large hall and there are cnadles, chairs and pot plants decorating the floor around them. Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music

    Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music

    20 June 2022

    Armchair poets become legends in their own lunchtimes in Vanguard Consort’s imaginative Saturday Night Poetry, writes Claire Coleman.

    Reading time • 5 minutesMusic

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio