Historic show documents development of Cambodian art – Forever Until Now

CAMBODIAN ART SHOW

In a unique documentary and historic show, Cambodian-based curator Erin Gleeson brings the works of  14 Cambodian modern and contemporary artists  to 10 Chancery Lane Gallery in Hong Kong. This post is the first in a three part series.

 Sopheap Pich, Cycle 2008

Forever Until Now – 10 Chancery Lane, Hong Kong to 25 April 2009

The ground-breaking show aims to provide an overview of the evolution of experimental and contemporary art in Cambodia and covers 3 generations of artists born between 1933 and 1988.

What prompted the exhibition? 

Dealer Katie de Tilly began planning the exhibition last summer when she took an exploratory trip to Cambodia  and was shown around by bamboo sculptor Sopheap Pich and  US- born curator Erin Gleeson who has been based in Cambodia for the last 5 years. Whereas Thailand and Vietnam have been receiving international exposure for some time, Cambodian contemporary artists are on the cusp of  interntional recognition. The work of Cambodian artists will be shown for the first time at the up-coming Asia Pacific Triennial 2009.

 Why is Cambodian art getting attention now?

Until a decade ago contemporary art in Cambodia simply did not exist but after the opening of the Reyum Institute of Art and Culture in 1998 and other galleries such as Java Cafe, more cutting-edge works began to emerge among the traditional works of silk weavings, silver and stone sculptures.

It has been over 30 years since the 1979 toppling of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s totalitarian regime. During the last decade Cambodia has enjoyed a period of political stability which has allowed an opening up to external cultural influences and a gradual blooming of the art scene.

During the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979 a dozen or so artists left the country to study abroad  but when they returned there was little art infrastructure to support their practice.

Despite an absence of government funding for the arts, international collectors are beginning to become aware of the significant changes in Cambodian art practice thanks to the activities of private galleries (from Thailand in particular), curators ( like Erin Gleeson who established the artist resoure centre Bassac in Phnom Penh last year) and artists themselves such as Sopheap Pich who was selected for the Best of Discovery section at Shanghai Art Fair in 2008.

The artists

The artists fall into three groups. The first group only – artists born in the 1950s or before –  are covered in this post.

The following artists born from 1930s – 1950s  were formative in the development of today’s Cambodian contemporary art because each in different ways appropriated new sources of inspiration. Grandfather of art, Svay Ken focuses on the immediate and everyday instead of the sublime whereas Vann Nath’s dark  heavy work reflects the experiences of terror and torture which Cambodia suffered during Pol Pot. Stylistic development is apparent in the comic art and illustration work of Em Satya while Duang Saree is influential for innovating the traditional motifs and representations in temple art into new forms which better reflect contemporary society.

 Svay Ken, Flood at the Wedding, oil

  • SVAY Ken (1933-2008) – painter – Known locally by the respectful title Lok Ta (grandfather), Svay was remarkable for turning away from traditional art practice glorifying ancient monuments and rural landscapes and depicting in his rough self-taught style the every day moments and objects of Cambodian life. His work as a porter at the lavish Raffles hotel led to sales of his art to tourists which in time evolved into international recognition. He is collected by Fukuoka Asian Art Musuem, the Singapore Art Museum and the Queensland Art Gallery. He will represent Cambodia in the 6th Asia Pacific Art Triennial 2009.

Vann Nath, Pray for Peace, oil 

 

  • VANN Nath (1946) – one of the most honoured figures in Cambodia he is one of 7 survivors of the Khmer Rouge’s secret prison known as S-21 where 14,000 people were tortured and executed during the 1975-79 Pol Pot regime. His jailors spared his life so that he could be put to work painting and sculpting portraits of Pol Pot. Vann Nath typically paints the dark and violent events he has witnessed.

 

Duong Saree, Kbach Tonle Sap 2, watercolour

Duong Saree, Kbach Tonle Sap 2, watercolour

  • DUONG Saree (1957) – Duong Saree is a renowned teacher and innovator of Cambodian Traditional Painting. Over 6 months in 2007 she completed the largest traditional painting in Cambodia (outside the Royal Palace Walls). What is interesting about Duong Saree’s practice is that she is evolving the traditional motifs of temple painting  – usually strictly adhered to – in order to better represent the contemporary world. In this show she innovates new forms for water to complement the five surviving representations of water found in temples.

 

Em Satya, Deadly Curse of the Diamond, Watercolour

Em Satya, Deadly Curse of the Diamond, Watercolour

  • EM Satya (1952) – a comic artist – Cambodian comics first appeared in the 1960s taking inspiration from the style of French and the colour of Indian comics. He is best known as “Nono” the pseudonym under which he drew caricatures and political cartoons for newspapers in the 1990s. His newest graphic novel Flower of Battambang (2006) is already seen as a contemporary classic.

This is the first of a three-part series on this show.

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