For a month, Phnom Penhers will have the opportunity to see the atypically stunning artworks by ‘Homeless’ – a group of 3 young Cambodian artists – in their first collective exhibition ‘I Don’t Belong Here’, at the newly opened Bong the Gallery. The artists, insurgent and offbeat in their own ways, tell Taing Rinith the inspiration behind their arts.
Shanghai Chang, a 21-year-old visual artist, sees himself as an acute socially withdrawn person. He hates talking to people and would rather bury himself in his unconventional work, focusing on dark art and nude photography. He also has a bizarre style – long and messy hair, worn or unwashed clothes.
“Once, when I went to buy a pack of instant noodles, the shop-owner gave me some money because she thought I was a beggar,” Shanghai says. “My mother always criticises my way of living, but I love it.”
Shanghai used to think that he was alone until two years ago when he met Sosoth Sovankong, a graffiti artist who’s one year older than him, and Many Sin, a 28-year-old self-taught contemporary artist from Battambang. They all met at an exhibition at Sa Sa Project and after some exchanges of stories, found that they have many things in common, especially their love for contemporary art and bizarre lifestyle.
“When I met them, it was as if I had met myself,” says Sovankong, also known as KWN23. “It was not long before we moved into an apartment with a studio to work and live together.”
Their lives, KWN23 adds, have significantly changed after they started sharing the same living and working space. They receive influence and inspiration from one another; and unlike before, they now have someone to depend on whenever they need support – emotionally or financially.
Just like other contemporary artists in Cambodia, the three artists cannot earn much from their passion, amid the country’s niche art market characterised by a small number of collectors and galleries. As a matter of fact, they work do other jobs to pay the bills. But they never show any sign of giving up on their artistic careers. Thanks to their hobo-like way of life, they choose to call themselves “Homeless”.
While each of them has been featured in solo and joint exhibitions before, “I Don’t Belong Here” will be their first as “Homeless”.
“For me, ‘I Don’t Belong Here’ is the beginning of our journey into the field,” said Many. “It is our first try as a group of artists who are striving to create something very different, something that you will not see every day.”
The exhibition comprises fine-art photographs by Shanghai, paintings and instalments by KWN23 and steel sculptures by Many. The theme of the artworks, as the artists explain, is based on the concept of being a social outcast.
“The name ‘I Don’t Belong Here’ comes from the lyrics of the song ‘Creep’ by Radiohead, our favourite rock band,” adds Shanghai. “But it also implies the feeling of being the black sheep, of being born in a place where a person is different in the eyes of others.”
Most of Shanghai’s photos have a touch of sadism and masochism. They had been rejected by many galleries and curators, but Alexandre Barthelemy, the French owner of Bong the Gallery, sees them as objects of beauty.
“There is nothing terrible, only some galleries are very conservative,” Barthelemy says. “To me, they represent the drama in the life of the people who are very different from those around them, just like our artists.”
The exhibition “I Don’t Belong Here” will be officially launched tomorrow at 6 pm at Bong the Gallery, located at 18E2 on Sothearos Boulevard (formerly Sasa Basac). Free beer and finger food by Chez Tonton will be served. Kenny Chase and Premo Sounds will give live performances at the event.