Tears of a clown
PHUKET: Jody Houton meets talented Phuket performance artist and Thailand's Got Talent contestant, Romadon.
Thursday 9 August 2012, 12:24PM
Singing sensation Gig, featured recently on the front page of The Phuket News, may very soon have some competition for the hearts of Phuket fans of Thailand’s Got Talent.
Although equally talented, albeit in a rather different art form, 37-year-old street performer ‘Romadon’ will feature on the semi final of the hit TV talent show on August 19. To say he’s new on the scene is in fact, unfair, as he’s been there all along, standing perfectly still, sometimes as a statue and sometimes as a pile of mud.
Romadon, named after the Thai pronunciation of the Muslim fast Ramadan, was born in Phang Nga to a mother and father who worked in the tin mine industry.
He chose a different and more creative path however, and went to study art in Haad Yai, Songkhla and then at Sillapakorn University in Bangkok, which is where he stayed for many years working and creating art in the infamous backpacker district of Khao San road.
It was there that he made the decision to travel to Phuket via a rather odd method, “One day I just decided to come to Phuket so I cycled down with my friend. It took 11 days.”
Romadon’s interest in art also burgeoned in a rather unusual method, “When I was about 16-years-old, I saw this street performer who was dressed as a clown standing outside Haad Yai train station.”
Clearly transported back to that pivotal night, Romadon has a far-away look in his eyes as he continues, “He wasn’t moving and he had no expression. I just kept on looking at him and stayed there for hours until about midnight when everyone had left.
“Then I saw him cry, and so I walked home and cried too.”
From that rather emotional moment, and what he refers to as his defining inspiration, Romadom’s artistic fate was cemented. The next night he went and bought the exact same outfit, and went to stand right next to him. For that night only, they performed side-by-side but exchanged no words.
They shared an emotional bond though and according to Romadom this is exactly what art should do. “It should inspire feelings in others,” he said pointing to his chest. “It should make people feel something here.”
It was also Romadon’s first exposure to slightly less conventionally-Thai art forms like puppet shadow shows and the like, and although he also creates paintings and sculptures, it is street performance and live art that he immediately knew he had an affinity with.
“It’s a fresh type of performance. It’s immediate. With painting or sketching, you take a photo and then take it home to do some work on it and it takes a long time, but with performance art and street art, it’s right here and it’s right now.
After many years of performing around the island and earning ‘just about enough’ to provide for his wife of two years Idaya and his 3-month-old baby boy Moobarok, he heard about Thailand’s Got Talent, applied, flew to Bangkok and then delivered perhaps one of the scariest and disturbing yet sweet performances the judges said they’d ever seen.
“I brought out a black canvas and drew a skull on it. Then I threw red paint on my face – so I looked like a dead man – and dashed myself on it. All the while [thrash metal group] System of a Down was playing in the background.”
He said that his performance drew a few stares, especially from the female members of the crowd, “But then the music changed and I whipped a sheet off the canvas to reveal an image of a dove.”
It was enough to see him through the heats and Romadon is performing in the all-crucial semi finals on August 19. Although Romadom is keeping tight-lipped about the content and execution of his semi final performance, he becomes rather vocal when explaining why people should vote.
“My performance will show love for the people, and encourage people to love one another. There are lots of problems right now in Thailand, in the south we have fighting between the Muslims and Buddhists and throughout Thailand there are problems with Red and Yellow shirts.”
Romadon added, “If we could just love each other and stop the problems, Thailand would be beautiful and we all could drink coffee together.”
Although Romadom and his act is slightly different to the norm on the hit TV show, it is this ‘difference’ that motivates him to win.
“I noticed that in Season One and Two everyone was just singing. There were no other types of performance, no art or anything like that. I wanted to change that.”
Romadon has changed his act rather a lot since those early days of copy-cat clown, and its evolution has seen many stages, both literally and metaphorically.
“I’ve worked with different materials, mud, cement and all kinds of stuff. I perform at shopping centres, on streets or in public parks. Sometimes I perform just hanging out in front of universities or sculpt myself into trees and become one with nature.”
In fact, one of Romadon’s favourite pieces was when he covered himself head-to-toe in mud and secreted himself in the ground for six hours.
“This was special to me because in the Islamic faith we believe that man came from the ground,” he explained.
This feat attracted much adoration from the local Muslim communities, however over the years, Romadom’s unique brand of entertainment hasn’t always been universally accepted.
“Sometimes I have problems when I try to perform on the street. I have been ‘moved on’ and on one occasion I was even stabbed by a passing kid on a motorbike.”
To Romadon, this kind of reaction is perplexing, “I don’t know why some people don’t like it. Maybe it’s just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe they don’t like the feeling they get when they see me perform,” he said.
Nowadays Romadom splits his time between teaching Art and Design twice a week at the Vocational College in Phuket, working in his Nai Harn studio, and performing in the Jungceylon Courtyard in the evenings.
There he performs dressed and painted in all-silver – a look that is very much his trademark now, and what separates him from perhaps other street performers.
This also helps him avoid comparison with highly controversial Thailand’s Got Talent contestant Duangjai Jansauoni, who appeared in the same show as Romadom. Duangjai also had a blank canvas and paints, but instead chose to paint with her bare breasts.
“That girl,” he said. “That wasn’t really performance art. The crowd didn’t really like it and the judges didn’t really like it but I think she got paid for the performance so her family probably liked it. She was poor and she needed the money. Her family liked her performance.”
Quietly spoken Romadon also has good things to say about fellow Phuket resident and Thailand’s Got Talent finalist Gig, who may stand between him and victory.
“In the preliminaries I met her and got the opportunity to speak to her a little and we both discovered we lived in Phuket. She’s good, when I first heard her I got goosebumps.”
If Romadom does get through to the final and win the competition, he is still not sure what he will do with the prize money, but he is sure of what he won’t do.
“At first I thought I was going to buy a condo in Bangkok, drive a Mazda 3 and have lots of money. I thought great. That’s what I want.”
“But then I thought why exactly am I doing this? For the money? So I changed my mind, I know that perhaps my life will change, how I don’t know, but I will probably stay in Phuket.”