An episode of "Thailand's Got Talent" has stirred a morality debate after a contestant painted a canvas using her bare breasts, drawing a rebuke from the culture minister who called it "very shocking."
Culture Minister Sukumol Kunplome said Monday that nudity on television is not considered appropriate in Thai society. She said the show's producers have been summoned to explain why the segment was broadcast and the ministry will then decide whether to take action.
"This program is intended to showcase the talent of Thai people and it usually encourages youths to show their special skills," the minister told reporters. "Still, there have to be some limits."
The show, broadcast Sunday on Thailand's Channel 3, featured 23-year-old Duangjai Jansaunoi, who walked onstage barefoot in jeans and a baggy men's button-down shirt. She introduced herself as an independent artist from northern Thailand.
She then turned to a large canvas and painted a yellow outline of a person. She then removed her shirt, unhooked a black bra and doused herself with several tins of paint before turning to the audience with a broad smile to display her multicolored torso. The area around her breasts was blurred out by censors.
As dance music played, the contestant used her body as a paintbrush to fill in the outline.
Some in the audience gasped with hands over their mouths, while others cheered her on.
"If I paint in a normal way, then it would be too ordinary," Duangjai told the judges after being handed a towel to cover up.
The judges then debated whether her act could be considered art.
"I'm not saying this is not good, but it's not appropriate," said the panel's only female judge, actress Pornchita Na Songkhla. "Within the Thai cultural context, I don't support this."
As online chatter soared, some called Pornchita a hypocrite and posted photos from a 2010 fashion shoot in which her naked torso was covered with melted chocolate.
The panel's two male judges advanced Duangjai to the next round.
"This is an art form. If we were in Italy, like Florence or Milan, or the Czech Republic, say Prague, this would be OK," said singer Jirayut Wattanasin. The audience roared in support, many flashing "V for victory" signs.
Thailand's Got Talent issued an apology late Monday.
Panya Nirandkul, the head of Workpoint Entertainment, which produces the show, was quoted by the Thairath newspaper as saying he was not aware the contestant would be topless and denied the act was staged to boost ratings. He vowed not to let the mistake happen again, Thairath reported.
Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country which remains largely conservative, despite its freewheeling image and a flourishing sex industry. Censors in Thailand regularly target a range of social offenses, blurring out cigarettes, alcohol and nudity on television and in movies.