Thai Flag and Monument

“Weaving Our Stories” Initiative Celebrates 190 Years of US-Thai Relations

The Mekong ASEAN

The US Embassy in Bangkok and C ASEAN wrapped up the long running “Weaving Our Stories” initiative this month. Hosted by the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre (BACC), the initiative celebrated 190 years of US-Thai relations and showcased Thai American multidisciplinary artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya’s “Time Owes Us Remembrance” art installation.

The Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre (BACC) wrapped up the “Weaving Our Stories” initiative, which ran from January 16 through June 25. The exhibition was one of numerous initiatives funded by the US Embassy in Thailand over the past year to highlight the 190-year history of US-Thai relations. “Weaving Our Stories,” the final initiative of the series, was hosted in collaboration with C Asean, an organization that aims to connect business, arts, and culture in the ASEAN region. Visitors enjoyed a public art exhibition in the Centre of the BACC, a wrap-around walk overviewing important historical events in US-Thai relations, and an interactive weaving activity.

The centerpiece of the initiative was the “Time Owes Us Remembrance” art installation by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, a Thai Indonesian American multidisciplinary artist who grew up in Atlanta and is now based in Brooklyn, New York. Crafted from threads of Thai silk, cotton, and multi-colored Thai textiles, the piece showcased Thai textiles and reflected the many "strands of connection” between the United States and Thailand. Visitors also participated in an interactive activity, where they weaved their “own story” by drawing individual pieces of string across a series of pegs representing different demographic information and opinions on US-Thai relations.

“Time Owes Us Remembrance” art installation at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) by Thai American multidisciplinary artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya. Photo Source: Alana Ballagh

The “Time Owes Us Remembrance” installation draws from Phingbodhipakkiya’s experiences engaging with American and Thai weaving communities, which included spending time with “mothers,” or local artisans, in 42 Thai weaving communities across 17 provinces from July to August 2023. From these experiences, Phingbodhipakkiya learned various local textile-making techniques and facilitated a series of participatory sessions, during which American individuals in Brooklyn and Thai university and high school students in Bangkok created pieces later sewn together and showcased in the exhibition. “Time Owes US Remembrance” reflects Phingbodhipakkiya’s other work, which “bring forth colors, patterns, textures, histories, and rituals to amplify marginalized voices.” It also embodies the larger exhibition’s goal to showcase the many interconnections between the United States and Thailand.

The exhibition’s host, the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre, is an art and cultural hall which aims to be an “intellectual assembly point,” hosting temporary exhibitions, seminars, and public library and meeting spaces. The Centre often hosts events in collaboration with the US Embassy in Bangkok—past events include an “American Film Showcase” for Black History Month, various art exhibits by US artists touching upon different social issues, and curator talks.

The “Weaving Our Stories” initiative celebrates the start of US-Thai relations in 1818, shortly followed by the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1833, which formalized diplomatic relations. The following 190 years of US-Thai relations have brought collaboration on military and security efforts and large increases in commercial relations.

US-Thai Collaboration Beyond Art

As of 2024, key issues of US-Thai collaboration include sustainable infrastructure development, commercial trade, and regional security. On security, the United States and Thailand jointly operate the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Bangkok and co-hosted “Cobra Gold,” the largest annual multinational military exercise in the Indo-Pacific. In March 2024, at the 2nd Thailand-U.S. Strategic and Defense Dialogue (2+2) in Bangkok, both parties committed to continued work addressing various security challenges, including cyber security and transnational crime, and to increased cooperation on intelligence, information sharing, and capacity building.

In March 2024, US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo met with Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin to explore US-Thai collaboration on semiconductors, clean energy, and sustainability. The United States, interested in diversifying its semiconductor industry, is committed to increased investment into Thailand’s rapidly expanding semiconductor industry. Further, the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, or MUSP, supports regional connectivity and Thailand’s natural resources management capacity, climate-smart infrastructure, energy security, and public health efforts.

Thailand is an important trade partner for the United States. In 2022, good exports from the US to Thailand were $15.8 billion, a 45% increase from 2012, and good imports were $58.7 billion, a 21% increase from 2012. Thailand is also under the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) which launched in 2022 and aims to expand investment opportunities and support regional economic integration and cooperation.

The “Weaving Our Stories” exhibition, while marking the end of celebrations of 190 years of cooperation, also reflects a look forward. Recent meetings between the United States and Thailand reflect a strong commitment by both countries to continued collaboration on a wide range of regional and bilateral issues.

Alana Ballagh is a Summer 2024 Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. She is an incoming M.S. student in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, with a regional focus on Southeast Asia.