Miguel Jeronimo is a freelance photographer and writer, an artist and poet, based in Phnom Penh. If he’s not occupied with his projects for NGOs, he creates his own art exhibitions in the capital. A traveler by heart, he is interested in the deep connection between art and life, aesthetics and meaning, philosophy and our everyday existence.
Chamomile Diddell, meanwhile, is an artist and traveler from California. She fell in love with the art community of Cambodia and traveled around the country getting inspired by the works of locals and expats in various cities and provinces. Her art flows without self-criticism, as it is something that comes to her from collective consciousness.
These two artists, who crossed paths in Cambodia just this year, are currently staging an illustration and photo exhibition at Neverland Artspace in Boeung Keng Kang 1. “Open your I” takes its audience to an artistic journey of the often disregarded beauty and meaning of the daily life in Cambodia.
Khmer Times’ Eileen McCormick visits the exhibition and speaks with the talented artists.
KT: How did you end up collaborating together?
Chamomile: I traveled from California and made my way to Southeast Asia in June. I met Miguel through Couchsurfing, where he invited me to his on-going exhibits at that time. My visa was almost up and I had plans to move on, but he approached me with the idea to extend my visa and do an exhibition together.
Miguel: I have two other exhibitions going on this month aside from the one at N o w h e r e Art Studio, one at the Plantation and another at Artillery. I have spent the last two years really trying to collaborate with other artists to set up exhibitions. This time, it worked really well because I am more into photography and she is an illustrator so we combined these aspects into a unique exhibition.
KT: Can you tell me more about the theme of “Open your I”?
Chamomile and Miguel: “Open your I” is a way to observe misconceptions and assumptions. Have you noticed how your brains automatically associate shapes with objects? Or how the way we perceive ourselves, including body and even identity, varies accordingly to observations from a stranger or our best friend? There is a discomfort in the realisation that all information our individual brain knows to be true might be, in fact, false. Since we always view things through our eyes, how do we know if what we see is really what is there? What if you could experience something without the effects brought by past experiences, context or prejudices, the lens through where you normally see the world? Just feeling a moment, a person, a situation, as it is.
KT: How did you come up with such theme?
Chamomile: I was using something basic like a can opener and was thinking about it through just my eye. While the subject and art did not exactly stay that simple, it evolved into more of a concept of everyday themes that change from person to person. I spent a week in Kampot on a farm and the first half of the week was a challenge. I have limited ability to assimilate or communicate. However on the second half of the week, more people showed up and spoke about the changing situations in the farm. That helped me come up with the concept of “Open your I”.
Miguel: For me, I think it came from observing Tuk-tuk drivers every day. We, including myself, gets a bit annoyed being screamed at as you walk down the road “Tuk-tuk! Tuk-tuk!”. But once you change the perception of your experience in that moment and see the drivers’ needs, things change. I have pictures of different drivers capturing the different expressions or things going on for them in any moment from suspicion to happiness. It is easy to get a wrong first impression but once you go deeper into any relationship with someone, you start to see more.
KT: What has inspired you about Cambodian art scene?
Miguel: Cambodia is an interesting place to be because the people here are open minded; and there is a lot of interest in art from the younger generation. I like that art in Cambodia breaks down everyday life, like how the colours and smell of just walking into a market or pagoda make you feel like you are a part of a surrealist movie. I also think it’s amazing to look back on the fact that the history of the Khmer Rouge was a time when everyone was taught to not stand out for survival. Now however, things are evolving and I think art gets to re-establish itself, helping to shape development and culture of the kingdom.
Chamomile: Phnom Penh reminds me of Portland, Oregon because of its welcoming and open vibe. One thing that has impacted me in my art is the way the traffic flows. When I got to Cambodia, I was blocked creatively, but the art community and the way the traffic works itself out somehow pushed me to want to create again. So yes, I guess the organised chaos that exists in Cambodia is something unique. It creates an interesting space for artists.