Meet Mook Attakanwong (@mookiemoo), the 29-year-old creative director, curator and founder of ATT 19 (@att19.bkk).
As we swap paintbrushes for Apple pencils and books for tablets, the world is changing faster than we can blink. How can an art gallery seduce the new generation into learning the pages of history? Nestled deep in the heart of Bangkok’s creative district lies ATT 19, a vibrant multi-purpose art, retail and exhibition space that intimately blends the old and the new. Mook shares how treasures from the past can effortlessly co-exist with the present.
|| How It All Began ||
What is your dream job?
A fashion designer. [smiles] I studied Fashion Design & Textiles at the University of Technology in Sydney and then pursued a masters in Fashion Design & Society at Parsons in New York.
Growing up, I was always surrounded by art and antiques because of my family business. Naturally, this fostered my love and appreciation for history.
My passion for history translated into fashion through reinventing classic textiles using various couture and traditional hand techniques. I also love hunting for vintage pieces and mixing them with my personal style.
The fast-paced nature of fashion and your passion for history sound like opposite ends of the spectrum. Did you ever feel conflicted?
My masters degree focused about designing with society in mind. We constantly had to reflect:
What are the social, political, environmental, and cultural problems we face?
Can we solve them with clothes?
When I was studying, I only used deadstock material and vintage clothes. Creating beauty shouldn’t come at a cost. Creating beauty and trash don’t have to come hand in hand. Everyone has a choice and as a designer, you have the power to do better.
Having been sponsored by Swarovski and named an emerging designer by Vogue Italia, it sounds like you were on track to following your dreams. How did you get involved in ATT 19 then?
To be honest, I didn’t really have a choice. We all have our own hopes and dreams, but in reality, we all have responsibilities too. At the time, I had to put my dreams on hold and put my family first.
While I was working for a luxury brand in New York, my family bought the land where ATT 19 is currently located. It was home to a beautifully structured 120-year-old Chinese school that was well-loved and meaningful to the local community.
The next question was: How can we redesign this space in a thoughtful and creative way?
My family’s legacy in the art gallery business depended on this, so I had to take action.
|| A Piece of History ||
What’s a typical work day for you like?
I do everything under the sun! [laughs] I curate, decorate the exhibitions, manage our inventory, execute marketing strategies, and select products for our retail section.
What do you think is so special about antiques?
The stories behind it can’t be found anywhere else.
In a thousand years from now, what story will your plastic table tell? Will it even last that long for you to talk about?
Antiques have lasted the test of time. They’re a part of human history. It’s amazing how humans handcrafted them purely from their own imagination. No references, no blueprints, no Internet.
What’s the biggest challenge in running ATT 19?
Making people appreciate history.
In a world where people are so eager to race towards the future, how do I make them think about the past? How do I make history unforgettable?
How does ATT 19 attract such a young audience?
1. Personal stories are key.
We draw people in by sharing human-focused stories that they can relate to. Our exhibitions are carefully crafted based on topics I believe will feed people’s minds. It makes art galleries appear more relevant in their daily lives.
2. Human connection is very important.
Starting with our online interactions, we share small chunks of simple content and I personally reply to all our DMs. As a result, people feel comfortable to start a conversation with us and ask questions when they arrive.
We treat everyone like family here. You don’t have to be an art buff to visit us. Anyone can come along and simply enjoy the experience. [smiles]
What’s a perception you’re trying to change?
People think antiques have to be polished to perfection and put on a pedestal, but that’s not the case at all.
I use antiques every day. My coffee table is from the Qing dynasty. If something has lasted for centuries, surely it will survive a small coffee spill! [laughs]
I’m trying to re-educate people how pieces from the past can live in the present.
Any upcoming projects?
We’re expanding to Bang Na! [smiles] There will be a curated warehouse that’s more tailored towards interior design and architecture.
Next to it, we’re rebranding a resort into an art hotel where there’ll be more space for experience-based events e.g. light festivals, fabric dyeing workshops, fitness activities.
This is a great chance for us to grow our community and be more inclusive.
Photos from @thecocoon.bkk.
|| Up Close & Personal ||
What advice would you like to tell your younger self?
Take the time to get to know yourself and figure out what you’re good at. Don’t strive to be anyone else.
My biggest strength is knowing who to connect and how to connect them for great things to happen. I stay sane knowing that nobody can be ATT 19 and I can never be like other art galleries. Knowing where I stand makes it easier for me to focus on my goals.
That's the best advice I can give … but I know it's really hard. [laughs] It takes time.
What’s been a life-changing moment for you?
Throughout my life, I always straightened my hair because I convinced myself it was easier to manage and l looked more beautiful that way.
When I moved to New York, it became such a hassle to constantly get my hair straightened at the salon. As my hair grew, my curly hair started to show at the roots.
My boyfriend at the time started to notice and said:
“Oh, I never knew that you had curly hair … why don't you love your own hair?”
His question blew me away because nobody had ever asked me that before. In fact, it was the first time anyone encouraged me to love my natural hair.
Since then, I’ve been letting my natural hair grow for 3-4 years now.
What’s something you are proud of?
Embracing the way I look and learning to love myself has given me the opportunity to help others, even in the smallest ways.
A young girl visited ATT 19 and asked me:
“Where do you get your hair done? Your curls look so nice.”
“I didn’t perm my hair, it’s my natural hair.”
“I have curly hair too, but it never looks as good as yours …”
I gave her practical advice from my own experiences and she genuinely appreciated it.
It’s very freeing to stand in your own truth and know that loving yourself the way you are can inspire others in some way, even if it’s just a few people.
In your own words, what is love?
It starts with loving yourself. Self-love isn’t selfish. When you understand yourself, you’re able to give more and love more. You become a better daughter, friend, and girlfriend.
What’s an important lesson you’ve learnt in your adult life?
A healer once told me that the more you shine, the more people want to take a piece of it. And you need to shine for the right people, not for the ones that need it for their own selfish reasons.
As I grew up, the more I realized this was true. It’s great to help out a friend in need, but it’s equally important to set healthy boundaries so they don’t become entirely dependent on you to solve all their life problems. If they can’t handle it, perhaps you have to learn to love them from afar.