CAMBODIAN CONTEMPORARY ART
This post features introductory profiles of 5 Cambodian contemporary artists born in the 1960s and 1970s in the 14 artist historic group show curated by Cambodia-based curator Erin Gleeson, Forever Until Now which aims to document the development of Cambodian contemporary art.
This group of artists spent their formative years during and after the Pol Pot regime 1975 – 1979, in some cases in exile. This regime killed the majority of educated people and it is estimated that 90% of artists were lost.
Hobbled for years by political repression as a result of the Pol Pot regime, the art scene in Cambodia is only now beginning to flourish and gain attention beyond its borders. Even today there are only 50 or so practising artists in a Kingdom of 14 million people.
- Rithy PANH (1964) – documentary film director – he has made more than 10 award-winning works which focus on the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge regime. In 1979 he escaped to France at age 15 having lost his parents and his sister. As a young refugee he wanted to forget the past and reject all ties with Cambodia. Eventually he found that the only way he could rebuild a life was to face what had happened to himself, his family and country. In this show his chilling 2003 documentary S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine reunites Khmer Rouge prison guards with their innocent captives. It stars S-21 survivor Vann Nath who is an artist also exhibiting in the show Forever Until Now.
- Sopheap PICH (1971) – Sopheap Pich is another of a number of Cambodian immigrant artists who have returned to Cambodia after a period of years abroad and is probably the best known contemporary Cambodian artist outside Cambodia. He has been influential in bringing conceptual art and the practise of art criticism to Cambodia which has no history of art theory or analysis. His family fled Cambodia in 1979 when the Vietnamese army invaded the country and ousted Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. They spent 4 years in refugee camps and when Sopheap Pich was 13 his family emigrated to the US where against their wishes he studied art. In 2002 he returned to Cambodia for a visit and immediately felt he had arrived home. His art concerns itself with the complex economic and social transitions which his country is now undergoing. Originally working in paint, Pich began to feel that his work was not connecting with his people and seeking a new direction began to sculpt using rattan and cigarette packets. When he saw a picture which his girlfriend took of him working with the rattan, his happiness was evident and he realised he had discovered his medium. Many of his rattan sculptures refer to human organs such as lungs and stomachs because Cambodians have a lot of health problems, particularly stomach problems after the poor nutrition resulting from the Pol Pot repression.
- LEANG Seckon (1974) – collage artist – Known as the Basquiat of Cambodia, he is perhaps the artist who is most well known to local Cambodians having popularized The Rubbish Project his ongoing work with communities around Cambodia to raise awareness about the environment. His most recent project Naga 2008 was a 225 meter serpent made of bamboo and reclaimed clear plastic installed in the Siem Reap River for World Water Day. Leang has four pieces of collage work in this show dealing with political and social change. In Gam Chendal he pieces together images representing periods of Cambodian history including the French Protectorate, Japanese occupation, Independence, the Civil War, the Khmer Rouge Regime, Vietnamese rule, United Nations Transitional Authority and the current constitutional monarchy. Three Greens on the other hand is a light comment on the adjustment of people to new rules: the greens refer to traffic lights which have appeared in Cambodia only in the last two years.
- KHVAY Samnang (1977) – photography, video – Khvay is a teacher in a rural province who is acutely aware of the information gap about the Khmer Rouge era in the Ministry of Education certified history books. The youngest generation learns about this time only through the ubiquitous iconic black and white mug shots of prisoners at the infamous Tuol Sleng prison where fourteen thousand people died. While performing the task of photographing nearly 1,000 school children for their diplomas he noted 2 dominant reactions: shyness typical of youth and a more culturally specific repsonse, resistance to being portrayed as a prisoner. His video projection ‘Reminder’ shows shot after shot of identically-dressed school children in a comment on how in an individual photograph, a person can retain his or her identity but if there is more than one image of a person ie a repeated image, this becomes a reference to and reminder of prison mugshots and Cambodia’s suffering during the Khmer Rouge repression.
- Denis Vantha MIN-KIM (1978) – Min-Kim studied art at various schools in France and in 2001 moved to Phnom Penh where he worked on a large scale in black Chinese ink on canvas for two years. Min-Kim’s new series ‘Duel’ is an exploration of his interest in the fight of the Reamker, a Khmer story based on the Indian Hindu epic Ramayana. By painting multiple fighters and stances in the same ring, he references the ancient art form of Pradal Serey – a unique form of Southeast Asian martial arts characterised by shifting fight stances. At the same time it portrays Min-Kim’s personal experience adjusting to the complexities of modern day Cambodia.
This is the second post in a 3 part series covering the historic documentary show Forever Until Now at Chancery Lane Gallery.
- Historic show documents development of Cambodian art – Forever Until Now – March 2009 (post 1 of 3 in series)
- 5 8os born Cambodian artists in historic show – Forever Until Now – March 2009 (post 3 of 3 in series)