Thai floral artist Sakul Intakul’s work is like a choreographed performance of flowers, writes Pankaja Srinivasan

Watching a floral expert of another kind and from another country at work is probably a first for garland weaver Muthum Perumal of Nagercoil, who weaves the manicka malai that adorns Sri Padmanabhaswamy at Thiruvananthapuram. “I am astonished that he made such beautiful flower arrangements with just ordinary materials,” he exclaims. Perumal is referring to Sakul Intakul from Thailand who is working magic with flowers, leaves and simple accessories. Sakul is an engineer-turned floral artist whose creations are extraordinary.

Crafts Council of Tamil Nadu (CCTN) has invited him to share his floral experience and his expertise with its members and conduct intensive workshops over two days.

Sakul gives a presentation of the huge body of work he has done for the Thai Royal household that includes state banquets, birthday parties, weddings and wedding anniversaries. His slides show incredible creation in a Bulgari resort where he has represented the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, with frangipani and hibiscus.

Next is a spectacular floral installation, that is 30 meters long and one-and-a-half meters across, set up for the International Film Festival at Rome. He has used azaleas and moss and shaped it like an unravelling spool of film. He has coaxed rainforests, and fairytale worlds, chandeliers and the Nizam’s jewellery out of flowers. But his most enduring contribution, he says, is the The Museum of Floral Culture.

In the course of his work, Sakul travelled the country, met people, worked closely with the Royal flower handlers, raided the archives for information and learnt about the floral culture in his own country. He says , growing up in Thailand where flowers are a way of life, he never really gave them much thought. But now that he had so much of information, he wanted to share it. And, that is how the idea of a museum came up.

A space for tradition

It would be a space which people with a love for flowers and an interest in Thai art and culture could visit.

So, a year ago, Sankul rented a 100-year-old teak mansion that once belonged to a Royal Guard and turned it into a museum. It showcases not just Thai, but also the floral culture of other Asian countries such as India, China, Japan and Indonesia. While inside are unique floral exhibits, rare information and flower-related trivia and artefacts, outside is a garden with native trees, flowers and shrubs. Workshops on contemporary and traditional Thai floral art are also conducted on the premises, andfree workshops are offered to children to keep them in touch with their tradition. “The museum is a book you can walk into,” says Sankul.

As an engineer, Sankul says he uses the laws of physics in his flower arrangements and installations all the time. “After all, it is the use of simple materials to create structures.” In fact, whether it is music, painting, or even dance, all art forms have a structure and a rhythm; only the manifestation is different, he says. He likens his flower installations to ‘raas leela’ – “Here it is a dance of petals, in five acts!” Sankul is referring to the five-flower arrangements he demonstrated along with volunteers from the audience.

He shows them how to make simple and basic arrangements to more complex ones that include flowers strung on a copper wire and submerged in water, to an installation that has an undulating mesh into which long leaves are inserted and then interspersed with blooms.

The arrangements are enchanting and Sankul is asked just one more question — So much of effort goes into creating these works of art. How can they be kept fresh longer? Sankul obliges with a few tips, but after a pause, says, “The flower is for you, now. The moment is now. Don’t get lost in the future and forget to appreciate it.”

Sankul Intakul has written several books on flowers. They are Tropical Colours, Dok Mai Thai The Flower Culture of Thailand and Floressence Essence of Modern Flower Design. He is currently working on a Japanese text book on Thai floral art, both traditional and contemporary.

CCTN celebrates its Silver Jubilee this year, and Sakul Intakul was invited as part of that.

President of CCTN, Lakshmi Ramachandran, welcomed him and spoke of South India’s own rich floral traditions. She recalled how in 2005 CCTN had organised a floral show and workshop over two days, titled Pushpanjali, where flower weavers from various parts of the state demonstrated their art. The art of flowers in South India was also documented by CCTN with pictures and information in a book called Pushpanjali – A Floral Offering.

Lakshmi spoke of workshops CCTN conducted in Coimbatore. These included garland making, Worli and Sanjhi art and Bagru printing. CCTN promotes the welfare of artisans working with metal, stone and textiles besides tribal handicraft. It documents valuable information on art, architecture and textiles and regularly holds events to introduce children to traditional art forms such as puppet shows and kolam. It also holds annual bazaars where craftsmen from all over India come to Coimbatore to share their wares.

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