CAMBODIAN ARTISTS URBAN DEVELOPMENT ART ACTIVISM
In April 2011, Voice of America (VOA) reported local curator Erin Gleeson as stating that nearly 80 percent of Phnom Penh-based artists in advanced practices are making work that responds to the significant physical changes taking place in the country in the name of urban development.
Click here to read the original article on Cambodian artists by Voice of America.
Independent efforts form cohesive collection
The combination of rapid growth and a lack of adequate master planning in Phnom Penh has resulted in the demolition of numerous historical, colonial buildings and the displacement of thousands of poor urban families, reports VOA journalist Yong Yen Nie. Cambodian artists’ reactions to these drastic upheavals range from rushing to document the current landscape, as seen in Kim Hak’s work, to questioning the psychological effects the new physical borders have had on the population, a theme which Lim Sokchanlina explores.
While all works to date have been independent artistic efforts, Erin Gleeson, the Artistic Director and co-founder of Phnom Penh gallery SA SA BASSAC, says the work represents a “cohesive collection that presents a similar view”.
Almost eighty percent of the local artists in advanced practices are committedly making commentaries on the rapid urbanisation of Cambodia. These local artists are responding to the change in their lifestyles, culture and environment and some of them are also expressing their personal experiences as they are also residents near the lake that has now vanished.
A direct response
Artist Khvay Samnang‘s work forms an example of one of the more direct responses. A 2011 exhibition of his photographs shows him standing in drained lakes and dirty shallows dumping buckets of sand over his body. His work comments on the environmental impact and large-scale displacement of Cambodians due to some of the more aggressive development efforts, like the filling in of Boeung Kak Lake. Well over 3,000 of the original 4,000 families that populated the Boeung Kak Lake area in central Phnom Penh have been forced out according to Amnesty International.
Khvay Samnang tells VOA,
My work is for the people. I use my body to react towards the loss of lakes situated in the heart of the city. I am not trying to change the government’s mind about how they should develop this country but rather, I am expressing my experience of this loss and be[ing] critical about this issue.
This abundance of visual commentary is helping to increase awareness of the situation. The article reports that UNESCO would even like to use local artists’ photography to support their effort to preserve what remains of Phnom Penh’s colonial architecture.
Reaching a wider audience
And with Cambodia’s first international art auction, backed by Christie’s, taking place this past March, the multi-disciplinary arts festival Season of Cambodia set for New York City in Spring of 2013, and a group show titled “Phnom Penh: Rescue Archeology” hosted by ifa (The Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations) planned for Germany in March and July 2013, this unplanned movement is positioned to receive the attention of a significantly wider audience.
[Editorial correction | Sunday 13 May 2012: In the original title and the introductory paragraph of this post we wrote that curator Erin Gleeson stated that 80 percent of contemporary Cambodian artists were making artwork about urbanisation. These references have now been modified or removed due to their inaccuracy. As stated in the quote that we use in this article, originally published in the report by Voice of America that is linked to in this story, Gleeson says that "almost eighty percent of the local artists in advanced practices are committedly making commentaries on the rapid urbanisation of Cambodia". Here, "local artists" refers to Phnom Penh-based artists, rather than all artists working in Cambodia. We would like to further clarify that this factual error is the fault of the Art Radar editorial team and in no way reflects on the integrity of the writer of this story, Voice of America or Erin Gleeson.]
- Asian Curatorial Network Forum challenges traditional exhibition practices – July 2011 – for more information on curator Erin Gleeson’s gallery and other unconventional art exhibition spaces
- Tune in to Art International Radio for 30+ talks on Asian contemporary art – May 2011 – enjoy podcasts on art activism and other contemporary art stories
- Sa Sa Gallery and Art Project, new artist-run initiatives in Cambodia – July 2010 – background on the impetus for Phnom Penh gallery SA SA BASSAC
- Picasso of China or voice of dissent: Who is Ai Wei Wei? Profile – September 2009 – no mention of art activism is complete without a reference to Ai Weiwei
- Historic show documents development of Cambodian art – Forever Until Now – March 2009 – a three part post about a 2009 Hong Kong show curated by Erin Gleeson featuring 19 Cambodian artists
Subscribe to Art Radar to stay on top of art happenings in Cambodia