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Architect turned artist mixes canvas and camera

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Lost in Toul Sleung Museum, by Thang Sothea. Photograph supplied

Architectural lines, forms and light ooze through artist Thang Sothea’s latest collection, Cambodian Mosaics: a rich, symbolic set of photographs, surrealist acrylic paintings and eye-catching montages ofimages collected on his travels across the country.

The exhibition, a mix of real and abstract iconography, which opened yesterday at the architect turned artist’s riverside studio, Top Art Gallery, is part of this year’s Institut Francais-run Photo Phnom Penhfestival.

Sothea says the collection, which he worked on for the past year, is a statement against the rapid development and construction creeping over major cities and tourist towns in Cambodia.

Born in Kampong Cham province in 1983, the self-taught artist graduated from Norton University with a Bachelor of Architecture and Urban Planning in 2007 and worked for a small firm for three years.

Feeling restricted by clients’ demands and architectural rules, he began painting, a passion he’d held since childhood, and taking poignant photographs with a small digital camera – the camera he still uses to this day.

“I feel more responsibility in architecture, working to a brief and with clients, everything must be extremely clear. For me, art is freer, I can push the boundaries as far as want and nobody tells me it’s not possible."

The collection exhibits meaningful locations for the artist – his seaside respite of Kep is depicted through Dali-esque paintings featuring vibrant icons of fish, pools and starfish and the famousabandoned villas, while the Bokor collection illustrates his negative perception of the mountain’s development.

“I feel ashamed of what I see with the Casino. The rich in Cambodia are poor in mind. They have no idea. (The) old buildings are historic and beautiful, the cracks and impressions really touch me,” hesaid.

The artist also depicts Battambang and  Siem Reap, along with a red, multi-layered interpretation of Tuol Sleng and loss – Lost in Toul Sleng Museum.

In Boy lost in the red bars and Boy lost in the red box, Sothea uses red to symbolise blood rather than include graphic and horrific images of genocide.

The exhibition will run at Top Art Gallery, above Riverhouse Lounge, on Sisowath Boulvard until January 31.

 To contact the reporter on this story: Claire Knox at claire.knox@phnompenhpost.com

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