Elegant 'Sala' Opens Door to Thailand at East-West Center Exhibition

Dr. Michael Schuster
Dr. Michael Schuster
King's insignia
King's insignia

MANOA (KHNL) - This Thai "sala" or pavilion is brand new, and waiting to receive its first visitors with an official public reception.

"I think it's a symbol of goodwill between the people of Thailand, the king of Thailand and the people of the USA. And all the aloha here in Hawaii," says East-West Center gallery curator Dr. Michael Schuster.

The ornately decorated and colorful teak wood sala replaces an earlier one gifted to the EWC by the Thai Royal Family in 1967, at the time the only Royal pavilion erected outside Thailand. A few years ago, that one started falling apart. "The old sala could not be revived so we'd need to reconstruct one. Because this was donated as a sala, as a pavilion by the king, it was very important to make sure we have something in wonderful condition," explains Schuster.

Now 40 years later, the same king, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej donated another sala. "It takes 6 month to carve the details of wood. Then it's assembled to make sure it's proper then disassembled and sent over by boat. The assembly took a month here to reassemble all these pieces guilded in gold leaf," recalls Schuster.

It's beautiful- and when you visit, Schuster suggests you pay attention to a few aspects. "The pediment, that triangle piece, has the king's insignia. There are only 2 outside Thailand, maybe 3, with the actual insignia. And this piece, called a chofa. That means piece of the sky. That's significant because it's an abstraction of a bird tail."

Overall, Schuster says the sala manifests Thai principles of architecture. "The whole building in Thai culture is a tension between gravity and moving upward in space."

You can talk, think, whatever you want here, but Thai custom says you should take your shoes off when you enter the sala.

The East-West Center is happy at the thought of the sala as a meeting place. "That's what part of our purpose is at the East-West Center is, to bring people from the east and west together."

A free public reception on Sunday, March 11, will celebrate the opening of both the sala and the East-West Center (EWC) Gallery's latest exhibition "Sala: Gem of Thai Architecture" that will run from March 8 through May 23. The program gets underway at 1:30 p.m. at the sala and will be followed by a 2 p.m. reception in the Gallery.

EWC Gallery curator Dr. Michael Schuster says of the new exhibition, "Architecture can tell us much about people's way of life and worldview." He points out, "This interactive, multi-media exhibition introduces visitors to the sala, showing what these structures mean and how they are used by Thai people today: their significance, role, forms, elements, process of construction, the associated rituals and beliefs." Schuster adds, "Visitors young and old will find this gallery experience approachable and interesting."

The exhibition will include wooden spirit houses, models of traditional Thai structures, woodcarvings, installations, architectural plans, a video of the rebuilding process at EWC, and photography by National Geographic photographer Paul Chesley and Bangkok-based artist Martin Collins. Guest co-curator is Bangkok-based Virginia Henderson, who has conducted research in Thai arts and architecture for nearly two decades.

The sala celebration, including a Thai classical dance performance, will be 1:30-2:00 p.m. Sunday, March 11 and will take place at the sala site, just mauka of the EWC's Imin Center (Jefferson Hall, 1777 East-West Road). The reception and exhibition will be from 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the nearby EWC Gallery, located at John A. Burns Hall, 1601 East-West Road. Admission to both events is free; parking is available at the East-West Center www.eastwestcenter.org or the adjacent UH-Manoa campus.

The East-West Center Arts Program is supported in part by the Hawaii Pacific Rim Society, Friends of Hawaii Charities, the Jackie Chan Foundation USA, and the generous contributors to the EWC Foundation, including members of the EWC Arts 'Ohana.