Chath Pier Sath’s elongated figures cling together, spanning the height of the frame, as if they’d just walked out of a Gustav Klimt painting. But rather than being surrounded by lavish gold, jewels and colours, they are grey or brown, with smudged features and haunted expressions.
These are the characters that dominate Distant Geography, Pier Sath’s latest exhibition at Java Gallery. The collection uses the collaboration of written word and visual art in collages that examine political and personal stories.
Pier Sath, a community social psychologist by training, realised when listening to stories of people’s suffering during the Khmer Rouge how art can be a powerful medium for healing. He said: “I started to create art myself. I was working full time, so I’d just paint for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening before I went to bed. I had a lot of paintings by the end of 2000. I’d paint on scrap woods, fabric, papers – anything I could find. I found that painting gave me peace and I was able to sleep better. Since then, I became an artist, and art has taken me to a lot of places: Thailand, China, France and always back to Cambodia. The median I used when I started to paint was oil and acrylic mainly. Now, I do more collage, mixing with words and layering over my old journals.”
He continued: “Individual narratives and experiences are part of history. Understanding your own history and your role within it gives you control over your own destiny. I explore this aspect of myself because I want to remember certain experiences and certain events in my life or I want to reflect upon them so I can learn from those experiences.”
Here, Pier Sath talks about some of his work:
Refugee Camp Transit
After my brother died, I inherited some of his documents in the refugee camp. I spotted a photograph of his family, each identified by a number. They all went to the US as refugees, but my brother couldn’t go because he had AIDS. In the photograph, his face was rubbed out.
I decided to draw my own version of this photograph, but I made the numbers bigger. I cut and pasted phrases onto the picture: “Number four the second child”, “Number six the last child” and so on. At the top I wrote “US Identity CBO19277” which is a case number they were given as a temporary identity when in the US.
There’s no justice at the tribunal. Money is wasted, everything is for show. It’s all so futile and we become more and more frightened, as the dark thunder of tyranny and oppression continue, like the sounds of familiar hoofs stumping over our miserable lives again and again.
The collage is made from cut-outs from the New Yorker Magazine. The floating swastika signs are not intentional, but through the process, I realised that they look like shattering swastika signs floating, and all their debris remain in the universe, like karma.
Breaking Up is about how foolish we are when it comes to love, how naive and inconsistent our words and actions, the chase of anger and heartbreaks, the journey of love from dawn to dusk and growing old and foul.
This piece is full of random words from memory, like “we agree”, “classical music”, “movies”, all cut out from the New Yorker Magazine; these words are qualifiers for a past relationship, describing events and places leading to the ending. These words may be random, but when I look at them, the full event come into focus. It’s like listening to a song when you’re travelling in another country. When you are no longer in that country, and you’re listening to that same song, you’re able to remember everything you did there.