The geographic and environmental links between Lao (Laos) and Northeastern Thailand (Isaan) separated by the Mekong River are strong, but the contrasts in the natural environment are striking almost shocking. On the Lao side, development has been limited and the lush tropical forests and complex natural environment have been largely maintained over the eons. On the Thailand side of the river, deforestation and development have drastically changed the ecology and social environment in only the last 100 years or so. Almost 100% of the Isaan populations now work on farms that cover the deforested landscape that is now filled with rice fields, eucalyptus trees, sugar cane fields, cassava farms, and increasingly, dairy farms. Flooding is a constant threat and groundwater supplies are diminishing and more and more saline. There remain only a few mature and stately trees in this almost barren landscape and they seem so out of place as prehistoric symbols of more primitive times. They are threatened by those who view
them as only wood or an interruption to the agricultural sameness and do not appreciate their fragile status of these living and lonely organisms.
The young people of the Isaan who have grown up entirely in the "modern" agricultural environment are leaving their homes for work in urban areas and in factories. There are few remaining elders who remember the more diverse and complex environment and the wisdom and beauty of those tropical forests. The new generation is quite bluntly abandoning the rural life and in the process is losing an important connection to nature and the ecological and social history of the Mekong.
As an artist from the Isaan someone who grew up on a farm and in a village, I feel great pain when I see the sudden and probably irreversible changes in our region and want very much to increase the awareness of the current generation of the very edge of the world that is disappearing. I have chosen the "Tree of Life" as my theme for the upcoming exhibition in Luan Prabang to utilize my drawing talents and photographic vision to create a series of images highlighting the remaining trees in the Isaan and the existing trees in Laos linking them artistically, but also showing the contrasting environments. It will be my contribution to the effort to preserve nature in as many was as possible and to ensure that the beauty and grandeur of these stately trees are forever in the minds of people who watched them grow over the decades people who are leaving in the region and tourists who must be exposed to their beauty and to their plight as endangered species.