AAS Member Spotlight: M.L. Pattaratorn Chirapravati

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Dr. M.L. Pattaratorn Chirapravati, Professor and Vice-Director of the Asian Studies Program, California State University, Sacramento
Art history and cultural studies; Mainland Southeast Asia, Thailand  

How long have you been a member of AAS?

I have been a member since 1992.

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

I became a member during graduate school so I could attend AAS conferences and present papers.

How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?

I have been an Asian art history major since undergraduate degree in Thailand. I continued with an M.A. in Indian art at Ohio State University and then a Ph.D. in Southeast Asian art and Southeast Asian Studies at Cornell University.

What do you enjoy most or what have been your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

The most rewarding experience as a Thai scholar is pride in promoting the Southeast Asian region. I can speak and read several SEA languages so I can utilize primary sources from the region very well and as a result, I have been able to produce valuable research.

Tell us about your current or past research.

I am an art historian who is specialized in Buddhist art and SEA visual cultures.  I have published extensively on ancient Buddhist art (e.g., Votive Tablets in Thailand (Oxford University Press, 1997) and “Illustrating the Lives of the Bodhisattva at Wat Si Chum,” Past Lives of the Buddha: Wat Si Chum Art, Architecture and Inscriptions, ed. Peter Skilling (Riverbooks, 2008)). My research focuses on religious icons and the interpretation of religious practices and texts from art works (“From Text to Image: copying as Buddhist practice in late fourteenth century Sukhothai,” Buddhist Manuscript Cultures: Knowledge, ritual, and art, eds. S. Berkwitz, J. Schober, and C. Brown (Routledge, 2009) and “Corpses and cloth: illustrations of the pamsukula ceremony in Thai manuscripts, Buddhist Funeral Cultures of Southeast Asia and China, eds. P. Williams and P. Ladwig (Cambridge University Press, 2012)). I also work on Thai material cultures (e.g., Divination Au Royaume De Siam: Le Corps, La Guerre, Le Destin (Presses Universitaires de France, 2011)). I am interested in identity and the political usage of icons. I am currently working on three book projects: Funeral Cultures: Studies of Images and Texts in Thai Art, Refashioning Identity: The Politics of Dress in Pre-Modern Southeast Asia, and a text book for Southeast Asian Art.
I co-curated two major art exhibitions of Thai and Burmese art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco: The Kingdom of Siam: Art from Central Thailand (1530-1800) and Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma (1775-1950).

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

Asian Studies is such an exciting field. It is interesting that most of my students in the Asian Studies Program at California State University, Sacramento, are first-generation Asian Americans who were born in California or born in Asia and migrated to the US when they were very young. Many are first generation going to college. They are very curious about their own identity and are interested in the historical and cultural backgrounds of their families. I encourage them to take a minor in another field such as art history, anthropology, business, economics, government, history, language, or sociology. In this way they can use the two fields for future work. I also encourage them to participate in a study abroad program for a year so they can become more proficient in the language of their concentration (China, Japan, Korea, or South and Southeast Asia). This also helps many students get good jobs abroad after they graduate. Many of them go to graduate school abroad.

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.

I am Thai and come from an artistic family. We were exposed to traditional Thai art and learned Thai music and dance at a young age. The longer I live in the US, the more I want to educate people about Thailand and the Southeast Asian region. I have lived abroad in countries such as in Japan, Switzerland, and France.

"...take a minor in another field such as art history, anthropology, business, economics, government, history, language, or sociology. In this way they can use the two fields for future work."

— M.L. Pattaratorn Chirapravati