PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Cambodia’s Khvay Samnang is short listed for the emerging artist in photography award at The Prudential Eye Award 2015 Exhibition which opens at Art Science Museum in Singapore Jan. 17
Khvay is known for his photography, videos, performances, and installation pieces. Infused with strange humor, Khvay’s projects show a different side of Cambodia, its history, controversial issues and traditional values.
Born in Svay Rieng Province in 1982, Khvay grew up and worked in Phnom Penh. Based in Germany this year as an Artist in Residence, he now is in Phnom Penh visiting his wife and new born daughter.
In 2006, he received a BA in painting at the Royal University of Fine Arts and became a founding member of the artist collective Stiev Selapak – and part of the Sa Sa Art Projects and the gallery SA SA BASSAC.
Having already displayed his work in Cambodia and overseas, this 32-year-old sees a promising year ahead. Khvay has solo exhibitions scheduled in Japan, France and Singapore.
The Controversial Piece
His nominated photos portray the land disputes that first erupted five years ago around the Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake. The lake was drained and filled with sand to make way for development. An entire community was displaced. Using the backdrop of lake during its destruction, Khvay captured images of himself symbolically pouring a bucket of sand over his head.
He remembers the time when local reporters were deterred from taking photos. But, as an artist, Khvay waded into the polluted waters, dragging a bucket of sand alongside him. Documenting the repeated action in different locations with photography and video, his work is now on the short list to gaining international recognition with this prestigious award.
“I asked myself if this situation was happening to my family, what would I do?” this soft spoken man queried with a smile.
His parents left the countryside because they feared more crimes after the Khmer Rouge lost power. Khvay is grateful that he grew up in Phnom Penh where he had opportunities to succeed as an artist – a career supported by his parents.
Khvay grew up as the fourth child of five. His mother sold spices on the street. His father repaired watches for a living. He recalls sharing a bed with all of his siblings. So he understands the pain of the people who were being displaced.
Continuing the Documentary
In 2010 to 2011, Khvay continued to document the controversial land dispute. This time, he concentrated on where sand filling the lake was coming from and on the effects of sand dredging.
When an elderly women and a child died when their house collapsed with a river bank, Khvay felt driven to do a piece on how a luxury housing boom was affecting stability of the river banks and those who live on them.
“This feeling made me continue doing this project,” he said. Uncertain on where to begin, he sought refuge at a local theater, where he met a dancer. After seeing the man dance, he was convinced his piece should include the performances of this man. “The collaboration gave birth to the photo and called “Where is my Land.”
“We talked about the dances and I told him about the story I was working on, even about the deaths of the people who live along the river’s edge and how their house would fall into the river,” he said.
Sneaking into locations along the riverside where the booming business of sand dredging was effecting the landscape, they even gained access to a destructive sand dredger. They reenacted a story Khvay had asked the dancer to perform – dying because of sand.
The Evolution of the Artist Scene
SA SA BASSAC represents Khvay’s photography and he now sells enough to support his retired parents. Nevertheless, he still struggles for venues to showcase his work in Cambodia. By sacrificing seeing the first moments of his new born daughter, he gains the income stability of the one year residency in Germany. Bit by bit, he believes Cambodia is becoming a better place for artists.
Khvay hopes that the increasing art scene continues to document the changing city, “many people now have access to cameras and have more opportunities to showcase their work.” Referencing how more design companies and other artistic jobs has increase recently in Phnom Penh including an accumulative acknowledgment of Cambodian arts on the international scene.
“Where is My Land,” 2014 photo by Khvay Samnang. (Photo: Supplied)