Thousands of weapons in the kingdom which were once used in the theatre of war are being hammered and welded into symbols of peace and hope by Cambodian artist Ouk Chim Vichet. Som Kanika caught up with him to talk about his artistic journey.
GT2: As one of the Kingdom’s finest artists, can you share your story so far?
Ouk Chim Vichet: I completed my degree in sculpture in 2006 at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) and I’m now teaching in the department of Sculpture and Urbanisation at RUFA.
While I was still as student, I was helped work on the Peace Art Project Cambodia, created in part by British artist Sasha Constable. We reused weapons, turning them into art as an expression of peace.
In my group we learned how to weld, forge and fabricate metal sculptures and then used our skills to create artwork out of decommissioned weapons. Even though it was the first time such a project was commissioned in Cambodia, it was successful.
My team members and I learned a lot about different techniques and we are very proud of the sculptures and monuments we made and our artistic contribution to Cambodian society.
These artworks can still be seen today. They include ‘Dove of Peace’ in Sanderson Park near Wat Phnom, ‘World of Peace’ in Kompong Thom and the ‘Naga for Peace and Development’ in the park along the Steung Sen River in Battambang province.
GT2: Who or what has been your biggest influence?
Ouk Chim Vichet: British artist Sasha Constable, the great-great-great-granddaughter of landscape painter John Constable, who founded the Peace Art Project Cambodia in 2003 and EU arms specialist Neil Wilford. When we started, none of the students had experience in working with metal art. As part of the project, we recycled more than 800 weapons and transformed rusty AK-47 and M-16 rifles discarded on Cambodian battlefields into sculptural furniture and art in the outskirts of Phnom Penh. That’s what triggered my desire to become a metal sculpture artist.
Now, I sculpt a variety of materials, including metal, stone and wood into pieces of art. There is usually a theme. For instance, the majority of my metal sculptures, usually involving recycled weapons, express the beauty of peace and the disaster of war.
GT2: By turning a weapon into a piece of artwork, what are you trying to address in society?
Ouk Chim Vichet: We all seek harmony and peace, but then why do people create war? How much peace do we truly desire if people are creating weapons and hurting each other? My artwork is all about trying to change people’s perception of what they see as a weapon of disaster and hazard into a symbol of unity and peace.
I want to try and end the feeling of suffering, destruction and loss of lives that war brings to people. By transforming weapons into beautiful works of art, I hope people will gaze at them and see love, humanity and peace there instead.
GT2: Which of your artworks is special to you?
Ouk Chim Vichet: ‘Apsara Warrior’ is a symbolic apsara which most of us have seen on the ancient temple carvings throughout Cambodia as a graceful, celestial dancer. My version is posed atop a pile of discarded guns and holds a broken rifle in her hands. This work of art shows that apsara, in addition to her many images in many temples, is also a symbol of women of the world who are brave and struggle hard to rid the world of war and all fearful things which threaten human life. Here she stands firmly and fearlessly, holding onto the ideas of peace and compassion she has as a human being.
GT2: What are the challenges you encounter within your chosen field of metal sculpture?
Ouk Chim Vichet: Working with metal and weapons requires you to be fit and healthy enough to carry many heavy objects, but the real challenges are transforming those objects into your ideas, which involves cutting or melting those materials. I often use lots of chemical substances in the process and once narrowly escaped an accident when a weapon me and my team were transforming, exploded. But at least I can say I truly suffer for my art!