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Peter Olszewski / Khmer Times Share:
H&T Lauren cutting paper. Supplied

An airport shutdown in Bangkok in 2008 caused Japanese-American artist Lauren Iida to reroute to Cambodia where she decided to settle and set up an art centre, Open Studio Cambodia, in Kampot until late last year when she started planning a move to Siem Reap.

This month, together with her young Khmer artists, she finalised the move, and launched herself onto the local art scene at a special showing at Tribe Gallery of Open Studio lino-cut artist Morn Chear’s work.

Open Studio now shares premises with the Tribe Gallery, and Tribe co-founder Nat Di Maggio said the collaboration had been long in the making.

“About a year ago we met Lauren and her artists in Phnom Penh at an art fair,” Nat says. “We were struck by her mission and values and immediately felt a connection. These shared values connected us and we have been talking and collaborating ever since.

“Moving to Siem Reap is a big leap for these young Cambodian artists, and it is also a big investment for Lauren. Tribe was happy to support and accommodate Open Studios. They have their own dedicated work and gallery space and the main Tribe Gallery will continue to feature their work.

“Having artists in residence enables a closer engagement with the art market and those who seek to buy art. It enables us to connect more with the community, through events and workshops”

According to Lauren Lida, the allure of moving to Siem Reap was too strong to resist.

“Our studio was born in Kampot and two of our current three artists were born there,” she says.

“We love Kampot, but wanted to make the move to Siem Reap to join the thriving art scene here. “The arts have been really taking off, especially in the last year or so, with the opening of Tribe Gallery, Batia Sarem, Treeline, and Mirage Contemporary amongst many other noteworthy projects.

Lauren with Tribe’s Terry McIkenny, (left) artist Morn Chear and Tribe’s Nat Di Maggio. Supplied

“We are excited to explore new opportunities for our studio including new opportunities to exhibit, network with other artists both Cambodian and foreign, and to reach a wider audience of travellers and expats interested in Cambodian art.

“So far we couldn’t be more thrilled with the warm welcome Siem Reap has offered us, and we are excited to be establishing a workspace for our studio on the rooftop of Tribe Gallery in Kandal Village.”

The work of Open Studio artist Morn Chear was chosen to mark the arrival of One Studio at Tribe and highlights of his work are on show at his debut exhibition, ‘The Space Between.’

“We have been following Morn Chear’s development for about one year now,” says Nat Di Maggio. “Morn Chear sings, he is a contemporary dancer and an accomplished artist. His story, dedication and commitment to his craft truly inspires and moves us here at Tribe.

“His imagery is simple yet stark, and his medium – lino block print – is relatively uncommon in Cambodia. He finds beauty in the ordinary and communicates this so eloquently through his work.”

Morn Chear’s career has been nurtured by Open Studio and encouraged by Lauren Iida, an internationally recognized artist in her own right who also works in a medium that is relatively uncommon.

She’s a paper cutter who can create intricate works with just a piece of paper and an Exacto knife. She began her art career as an oil painter, but turned to paper-cutting after returning to Seattle following an initial two-year stint in Cambodia where, among other things, she worked with Phnom Penh families who scavenged at the municipal garbage dump.

As well as intricately cutting art on single sheets of paper, Lauren also creates large scale paper cut installations which can be 9 to 12 metres in length.

In 2016 the International Examiner reported that encountering one of Lauren’s paper cut pieces was “Like emerging from a darkroom into a day blinding bright and stark with outline and shadow…If Iida uses color, the effect is striking and minimalistic, Sumi ink wash blooms, Rorschach clouds of aquarelle.

“Whether set against a black background or compressed between panes of glass, there is always an arresting quality of the comic book, a poem, a rich saturation, a chaos, and an intricate delicacy to each of the pieces—they are cut paper, after all, cut with such care. And for her, the more detail all the richer.”

Lauren has also studied video at the Cornish College of the Arts in her former home town, Seattle, Washington but paper cutting is her thing.

“Paper cutting is meditative for me,” she says, “It’s a way for me to process the world around me.

People and things are reduced to positive and negative space, messy things become crisp lines, grey areas become simply black and white.

H&T Morn Chear opening night scene. Supplied

“Sometimes I create tiny, delicate portraits, other times large scale installations. This way through my art I pay homage to those around me and celebrate the simple gestures of being human.

“I love to do it and I would do it all day, every day if I could.”

Unfortunately Lauren’s quest to cut paper every day hasn’t been practical lately.

“In the last year, because of my focus on Open Studio Cambodia, I haven’t been cutting paper every day,” she says. “But after we get settled in Siem Reap I am hitting the ground running with several projects exhibitions on the books including Pippali Hotel and Hotel Old Cinema (both in Kampot) and a bigger solo exhibition in the spring of 2020 in Seattle at the Artxchange Gallery, my Washington State representative.”

Let’s hope this paper cutter’s presence in town helps put Siem Reap on the cutting edge of the global art scene.

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