Samak Kosem photos beautifully depict reality of being LGBT+ and Muslim in Thailand

A photograph series called Outside Inside by Samak Kosem portrays the turmoil and wonder of growing up LGBT+ and Muslim in Thailand's Deep South.

A man lighting a cigarette, part of Samak Kosem's photograph series.

Samak Kosem’s photo series, Outside Inside, subtitled Pondan under the Pondok explores the interaction between queerness and Muslim faith in Thailand’s Deep South. Pondan is a Malay derogatory term for gay.

“Art gives us the ability to question and provoke, often without words – Kosem’s art does exactly this on issues of sexuality and Islam,” said Amanullah De Sondy, senior lecturer in contemporary Islam at University College Cork. Using the medium of photograpy, Samak expresses how an LGBT+ person reconciles the balance between their sexuality and their Muslim faith. 

Samak works in the field of visual anthropology, exploring Muslim culture and the nonhuman subject. He has previously earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in anthropology at Chiang Mia University.


On Samak’s website, he details the contradictory reality of identifying as LGBT+ and practising the Muslim faith. The people who meet up for sex at night are usually the same “people at school […] forever telling them that because of their aberrations God would never accept their prayers”, said Samak. 

School was a painful time for Samak as he was bullied as pondan. His friend Walad suffered similar abuse but was braver in expressing himself, changing from Arabic dress in the mosque to leopard print skirts for going out. So long as Walad obeyed his parents in certain areas, he was free to be himself, according to Samak.

Samak explores the boundaries between gender in a photograph showing a short-haired man wearing a saroung, a garment usually worn by women, on a crowded beach. “It is these varied colours which challenge not only the opinions we form outside of Islam but the very critical discussions that Muslims are internally grappling with at a time of heightened debate on gender and sexuality,” said Amanullah. 

Image result for samak kosem trans man on beach

Thailand’s Deep South has been plunged into violent unrest with the armed insurgence of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional in 2004. Their campaign aims to control the Malay Muslim population and exile Thai Buddhists from Patani Darusalam. With external violence bearing down on the faiths in the Deep South, internal violence against homosexuality persists within these communities. 

Samak’s photography series Outside Inside portrays the lives of male students who engage in ‘len shuen’, a term relating to sexual relations between the same sex but not named homosexuality. Due to religious teachings, sexuality takes on a more fluid nature, transcending the body. Rather than titling the act homosexual, a ‘brotherhood’ of sorts is forged between the males.

Expanding out from his Anthropology PhD thesis “Sheep, Waves, Check Point, Jinn”, Samak aims to capture the hidden lives of LGBT+ people living under fundamental Islamic beliefs in Thailand’s Deep South. He strives to make visible the invisible by capturing the beauty and struggles of the LGBT+ community’s everyday life. 

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