A young girl lived in constant fear of landmines near Poipet. A poor boy in California spray-painted graffiti around his neighborhood. Another child in Belgium watched balloons in the air. These children may have grown up worlds apart, but the adults they grew into can all relate to one another.
“Childhood memories are universal in the sense that we have all been a child at some point,” explains Bernadette Vincent, 55, of Belgium.
“There will always be something we can pick up in others’ memories that remind us of our own.”
For the new exhibition Off the Wall , Vincent and 30 other artists have painted their adult expressions of childhood memories onto skateboards for a new exhibition at Teo+Namfah Gallery titled Off the Wall.
Curator Nataly Lee said that the exhibition’s original purpose was to combine art and street culture, which ultimately led to using skateboards for canvas.
“There’s a lot of people here who are very interested in skating,” says Lee.
Skateboarding was introduced to Cambodia by the NGO Skateistan in March 2011, which aims to combine skateboarding lessons with social outreach to disadvantaged youth.
“Skateboarding had never happened here,” says Skateistan site operations manager Benjamin Pecqueur. “Now we have around 200 in the school, and another 20 kids in the city.”
Due to the youthfulness associated with skateboarding, Lee thought it would be a good idea to incorporate childhood themes into the art project.
“Since most of the skaters here are obviously younger people, the idea of childhood memory was a really good place to explore.”
The different stories told on the canvas reflect the diversity of the artists involved, who hail from all over the globe.
Chaan Dina, 28, applied a ceramic mosaic with a shattered appearance in order to symbolise her childhood memories of landmines.
“I used to live near landmines near the border of Thailand. Some of the roads were dangerous, and you had to go on the road that people told you.”
On one particularly brutal day when she was about 12 years old, Dina said she saw a woman walk down a dangerous road and never return.
“People said to her. ‘Don’t go,’ but she didn’t know what was going on. And then after 15 minutes, I heard something like a bomb.”
At the top of her skateboard is a teapot top surrounded by a white circle, which aims to replicate the appearance of a landmine to a naive child. “People would see the landmine and think it looks very nice, and they’d want to play with it.”
While Dina invoked the violent imagery of Cambodia’s recent past, Kang “La” Chantha, 30, said that his skateboard represented the uncertainty of growing up Khmer in California.
“I was born in a Thai refugee camp, and I came to America caught between two worlds.”
The bottom of the board featured the word “Cali Kid” painted in the colours of the Cambodian flag, while the top featured Leonardo the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
“[Leonardo] is the leader, and growing up, I had to step up and take care of my sibling when my parents were at work.”
Chantha painted the board with spray paint as an homage to his youthful days tagging buildings with graffiti.
“I was a bad kid, we’d do graffiti on walls just to express our artistic ability.”
While Chantha and Dina both focused on the grittiness of their childhood, Vincent tried to convey the mixed emotions of her relatively comfortable upbringing in Belgium.
“People always think that childhood memories are always happy, but for me, it is very ambiguous.”
The board is covered with decals of children, none of whom look particularly happy. However, Vincent added balloons to the board to symbolise optimism.
“The balloons are a very childlike thing. But its also very lifting. Everything that might be heavy reaches toward the sky.”
Lee said that the diverse backgrounds in the exhibition demonstrate the universality of the project. Combined with the use of a skateboard canvas, Lee said that she hopes to make art more accessible and less elitist.
“Often people have the idea that art should be exclusive, only for those who ‘understand it’ and intellectualise it. I think combining skateboarding with art makes it more accessible to people who otherwise feel they couldn’t explore art.”
By opening the project to a wide range of artists, Lee said that she hopes viewers use the art to connect with their own memories.
“Everyone has childhood memories. Whether people explore them through other people’s childhood memories or their own, it’s an important theme of people’s lives.”
Off the Wall opens at Teo+Namfah Gallery at #21 Street 214 on March 21. All skateboards will be sold at a silent auction, which lasts from March 21 until March 31.
Reserve price is $100 per skateboard.