Sawai Chinnawong of Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand, was the 2003‒2004 Paul T. Lauby Artist in Residence at the Overseas Ministries Study Center. An ethnic Mon whose Buddhist ancestors migrated to Thailand from Myanmar, Mr. Chinnawong committed his life to Christ while in his twenties. Today he is a member of the United Church of Christ of Thailand. His love for art began when he was a child in Thailand when he saw some old men painting on a Buddhist temple wall. He says he would watch them for hours each day. Sawai’s interest in art persisted into adulthood, and he studied art in a vocational school in Bangkok, Thailand. It was at this time that Sawai became a Christian. He says that a missionary was witnessing on the street one day, and soon after, he began to study the Bible every day after art class.
After completing his art studies, Sawai attended the McGilvary Faculty of Theology at Payap University in Chiang Mai. He was deeply influenced by a series of lectures on the history of Christian Art given there in 1984 by artist and professor Nalini Jayasuriya, another of our OMSC artists. He began creating liturgical art while attending seminary, and designed the artwork for the chapel there. Today his art is appreciated in many places for its portrayal of Christian themes through a Thai graphic idiom that is inspired by Thai culture. Sawai’s artwork is published by the Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre of Hong Kong and by the Asian Christian Art Association of Indonesia.
My work represents influences from many styles…I believe Jesus Christ is present in every culture, and I have chosen to celebrate his presence in our lives through Thai traditional cultural forms. My belief is that Jesus did not choose just one people to hear his Word, but chose to make his home in every human heart. And just as his Word may be spoken in every language, so the visual message can be shared in the beauty of the many styles of artistry around the world.
— Sawai Chinnawong
His artistry has been published by the Asian Christian Art Association, Indonesia, and the Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre, Hong Kong. He is known for portraying Christianity through a Thai graphic idiom, which was inspired by the traditional art from central Thailand. His drawings and paintings reflect a deep Christian faith.
Sawai Chinnawong’s work has been exhibited in Asia, Sweden and the United States, and he was one of five artists chosen for the Summer of 2007 exhibition “The Christian Story: Five Asian Artists Today,” held at the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) in New York City.
OMSC published an 80 page color monograph of Sawai’s drawings and paintings, with an appreciative critical essay by Dr. William Yoder.