Prachayaporn "Pat" Vorananta is a qualified art therapist and runs her own space, Studio Persona, in Din Daeng.
As part of our Rebellious X series, we spoke to Pat about her path to finding art therapy, establishing Studio Persona as a community art space, and the importance of reconnecting to one's inner child through imagination.
As you step inside Studio Persona, you will see beautiful paintings hanging all around, miniature clay works made by previous workshop attendees and warm-toned wallpaper embodying a welcoming gesture. It is a perfect escape from the commotion of the city, yet located in the heart of Bangkok.
Living in a big city is exhausting and it's kind of like we feel we connect, but actually we don't.
Studio Persona is a space focused on healing and transformation through the process of self discovery and connection. Prachayaporn Vorananta, or Pat, is the mastermind behind this cosy space. From a young age, Pat has visualised a space where everybody can come and feel happy.
“Living in a big city is exhausting and it's kind of like we feel we connect, but actually we don't," says Pat. "That's what I truly felt when I was younger, and I think this space and the process of self discovery is so important to create a community. I thought it would be nice to have a space to offer the community experience in Bangkok.”
On Art Therapy & Education
Pat is a IEATA (International Expressive Arts Therapy Association) registered arts therapist and Clay Field Therapy practitioner, the latter of which refers to a sensorimotor, body-focused and trauma-informed art therapy approach.
Pat's journey into art therapy began when she was pursuing a master’s degree in art and design at Central Saint Martins, a constituent college of the University of the Arts London, where she conducted a dissertation on how creative art could develop critical thinking in Thai children.
Pat used art as a tool to support children in communicating about their challenges and how they learn in school. In doing so, she reached out to several Thai public schools and worked on a project with different sized groups of children in a classroom of 60, tweaking some of the curriculums.
“I was curious about how I could create an experience that would encourage older students to express themselves. I tried different mediums, such as photography, in a three-to-four-month project. I also brought in some new materials for the children to explore, and we did free writing together,” Pat says.
From working with children, she saw a lot of difficulties in Thailand’s education system.
“I could see how the arts could open a space for children to express themselves. For example, I saw a lot of stories in their drawings, but at that time, I wasn't sure how I could properly support them. So I was looking online at children's psychology arts and the best tools to support children if they feel they are overwhelmed, or have been through a challenging life experience. I discovered art therapy.”
Art therapists are not common in Thailand, or as well known as social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors, so Pat decided to go back to the UK to continue her education in integrative arts psychotherapy.
For several years, Pat volunteered and worked as an art therapy facilitator at hospitals, including Rajavithi Hospital, Siriraj Hospital and with a programme called Art for Cancer. This volunteer work helped her find a suitable language for the therapeutic setting that is also culturally appropriate to Thai people.
I could see how the arts could open a space for children to express themselves.
She also teaches a programme called Informal Art Education at the Faculty of Art Education, Chulalongkorn University.
“I teach all the art processes that are not included in the curriculum. I invite students who join this class to explore themselves through our processes. We try different kinds mediums, such as writing, movement and sculpture. Even they themselves can be a sculpture. The classes are open to everyone, even students with no art experience.”
In 2019, Pat founded Studio Persona after completing her first year as a PhD student in expressive art therapy at The European Graduate School in Switzerland. She is currently in the process of writing her long-distance dissertation.
“After four years of working experience, I started to have an idea to create community art. I wanted to connect to new people and use art to connect people together. For people to experience a beauty that's not superficial, but one that connects you to other humans.”
On Studio Persona
The concept of "persona" is something Pat studied while at university in the UK. Everybody has different personas, and we apply them differently in different situations.
“To create a community is to accept yourself and other people you might know for the first time. To accept different personas of yourself and others," explains Pat.
The building in which Studio Persona is housed actually belongs to her family and the studio on the fifth floor used to be where she played alone as a child.
“There’re a lot of memories and imaginations here, and it's kind of like my safe space. There's an open roof and I thought maybe I should start from somewhere that has some kind of childhood spirit.”
Everybody has different personas, and we apply them differently in different situations.
Pat designed the space with a circular motif, as it represents unity and wholeness. Each room carries a name that serves its purpose.
“So we have the Sun, Moon and Universe. I named the moon room because we used to see the moon from that side. Now, it's surrounded by tall buildings, so the name is to remind you that the moon is always there, even though we can’t see it. The sun room is named so because the sun rises there at that corner at 7am each morning. The tall mirror is like a window welcoming the day. The biggest room is the universe room because we are in the universe, and we can experience the universe inside and outside too.”
Pat also applies the use of circles in every workshop. For instance, the workshops always begin and end in circles, so that everyone can see each other, hold eye contact and support and share energy as part of the group. In this way, the participants can experience wholeness as an individual and together as a community.
For Pat, human to human connection provides a full experience of one’s own being. She explains that to feel connected to someone is the first thing we learn as infants.
“As you explore the world, you're getting to know the world from everything you touch and your own sensitivity. That is something screens can't do.”
After every session, Pat always asks workshop attendees to reflect before they leave. By vocalising, participants listen to what each other have to say and that completes the experience.
Now at eight months pregnant, Pat is taking maternity leave, which will last at least three months. She says that in the past several months she has prepared to offer new workshops and invited a therapist to carry them on.
Pat got married last year. When she got pregnant, she experienced a lot of change both externally and internally.
“I go into the transition of accepting and embracing myself at the same time. So I have to let go of some of the future goals that I might have had and reconnect to myself again, and to my body especially. I needed to accept the changes in my body because it's also about growing inside and to connect, not just to my body, but a space for another life.”
It's not about me as a founder of this space, but the value of community arts. And everyone should be proud of it.
Having understood the difficulties mothers can faces when reconnecting to the body, Pat established private and group workshops for mothers, expecting mothers and women who are trying to conceive. The studio also provides art therapy for kids.
Studio Persona is one of Pat’s greatest accomplishments. However, when questioned what she asks herself lately now that the studio is established, Pat says she has one question in mind:
“How can I make this place continue to provide value without me? It's not about me as a founder of this space, but the value of community arts. And everyone should be proud of it. I don’t have to be here so that everything can continue.”
On the Secret Sauce
When asked about her secret sauce, Pat says, “Believe in imagination and believe in your own resources. It can be your childhood dreams, something you wrote in your diary when you were young. I always said to my parents that I wanted to open an art school, so people will love to do art like me. But I didn't really go for it at that moment. Just believe that you have your own resources to create something when the time arrives. Believe in the drive that is inside you.”
Believe in imagination and believe in your own resources.
As an only child Pat spent most of her time reading and creating. She mentions that she was not academic. Although art does not resonate with her parents, as they are more into business, she appreciates that they give her the opportunity to be herself.
Other than support from her family, friends and partner, Pat also says she could not have done it without her younger self: “Somehow we embrace each other to reconnect and she also inspired me to create something that matters.”
Most people who join the workshops don't possess art experience. For first timers and people who do not consider themselves artists, Pat reminds them that art belongs to everyone.
“I respect the person as they are. I love to make art with everyone together as a group. If I have a client that just started doing art therapy, at the beginning, I say, 'OK, let's create something about ourselves.' Then we introduce ourselves through our creations. It is another language that we explore together.”
“The first step is to listen to your body and your feelings. If you feel uncomfortable joining, you can step out of the room and find a space to sit down and relax. There's nothing wrong with that. You should allow yourself to do what you need. Allowing yourself to do what makes you feel safe is the most important thing.”
Art belongs to everyone.
It’s normal to feel afraid of being judged, and often people judge themselves on their own art.
“It is about creating a new experience of less judgment of yourself. And I think recreation is the best tool that you can use to step into yourself again, giving yourself a chance to feel something different, to feel the support from other people. Because sometimes judgment doesn't come from yourself but the environment, maybe it came from when you were younger and it stuck with you, blocking you from your own creativity.”
Being aware of your own judgment and its origins is the first step of change.
"To accept every part of us is part of growing up, part of the transition as a human and a wholeness of yourself. So embrace yourself in the paths, which could be a complete one or a broken one. We all go through something. Either good or bad, everything can be used as a resource and we learn from it.”
By Kankanit (Gun) Wiriyasajja
Kankanit is a third-culture kid, journalist, Rebellious X writer, firm believer in freedom of speech, passionate about telling other people's stories and empowering others, and currently saying yes to new adventures.