Out-of-control Australian bushfires, biblical locust swarms in East Africa and a white-hot heat wave in Asia confirms the threat of climate change is very much on the world’s radar. A new exhibition featuring works by nine Cambodian and French artists opens at the magnificent French Embassy on March 7, addressing Mother Earth’s urgent moment of need. Som Kanika offers a sneak preview.
As you pass through the entrance of the French Embassy and walk through a series of turns, you witness a striking metal shadow of a man aiming a bow and arrow at an escaping deer. The scene reminds many of ancient Khmer mythology such as the famous story of Khmer New Year.
The creator is Grégory Gosselin, a French iron-artist based in Phnom Penh who specialises in steel and metal to create grand-sized shadow pieces. Gosselin has great admiration for Khmer culture and methodology, as can be seen through the amazingly detailed stories his artwork represents.
Close by is the magnificent “Red Naga”. The installation, which is 180 metres long and surrounded by trees and bushes, is eye-catching and is a testament to the artist’s creativity. It’s the work of Seckon Leang, considered to be one of the most important artists working in the Khmer contemporary art scene today.
“All of us know the idea of whether the Naga (dragon) is a myth or real creature. Their existence might be extinct due to the impact of climate change. Therefore, the artwork here tries to address the issue of human activities that cast a threat over the lives of animals, which is not only the Naga itself,” he explains.
The third installation presents another masterpiece by Bandaul Srey, the founder of the NGO known as Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang where he has led the Visual and Applied Arts School since its creation in 1994.
The artist has created his vision of two essential characters from Khmer mythology, Vishnu and a Giant; symbols of good and evil. The piece intends to highlight the different side of human nature and the impact humans have had on the earth they are living on.
Next to Bandaul Srey’s piece is the artwork of Monisilong Riem; depicting a boat taking on the form of a giant Mekong carp fish. Riem is renowned for his artworks that revolve around mixing traditional iconography and sensitivity to the environment.
Considered as a major artist in the international art scene, Sopheap Pich’s artwork is part of an international collection and is regularly exhibited in the most prestigious institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
For his contribution to the exhibition, Sopheap Pich chose to work on an immense silk-cotton tree with its impressive forms and volumes. His bamboo installation is about nature, of course, but also about matters, volumes, living beings and the relentless passage of time. The name he gave to his creation is highly evocative, “I heard your branches are leaving”.
“My art pieces here try to bring innovation to the restoration of broken trees that are needed when trees are damaged. Normally they would have been cut down but rather than cutting down its branches, we can use rattan and bamboo to make a beautiful gate for the entrance of the tree or another creative idea,” the artist explains.
Remissa Mak, a Cambodian art photographer whose work is unanimously and internationally recognised, has also shown his creative works through photographs. In a series of images he showcases his extreme sensitivity to natural elements such as fire, water, animals and the flora and fauna of the Kingdom. His photographs, gathered together in a group called the “Way of Life”, are an echo of the common ancient Khmer proverb, “When the water rises, the fish eats the ant, when the water recede,s the ant eats the fish.” They remind us of the fragile balance of life.
Chim Vichet Ouk, a graduate of the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh and a teacher at the Sculpture Department, chose to display his work in the shape of a water drop, drawing inspiration from the jewellery of the Apsara dancers. Through his art, Chim Vichet Ouk wants to invite the spectator to experience the calmness of the water and the lessons we can draw from it.
Art installer, sculptor and prolific creator Sokhorn Meas also shows his art installations in the form of a water drop, using a combination of waste metals and steels. His artwork tries to address the chaotic nature of society and the uncontrollable development of the world which creates many issues for the human psyche. Through his art, Sokhorn Meas wants to show the dysfunctional state of modern society that people live in.
Last but not least is the artistry of Veasna Tith, a Khmer artisan who graduated from the Doghua University of Shanghai. Her work is often found at the edge of plastic experimentation and applied arts. Her art installation, made from metallic cables, presents flowers scattered at the foot of trees.
The exhibition opens on March 7, daily from 8am – 4pm. The entrance is free and requires no prior registration but food, drinks (except water) and bulky bags will not be allowed.