Many Cambodians are still picking up the pieces of their lives that were shattered during the Khmer Rouge.
Yet, while the Kingdom is steadily working toward putting itself back together again, deep fractures remain rooted in its society.
This is one of the influencing themes in Khmerican artist Amy Lee Sanford’s up coming art display, which she prefers to call “art performance”, titled Full Circle.
She calls her exhibition a performance because the entire making of her collection will be created in front of a live audience at Meta House Art Gallery.
Sanford will sit on the floor in the middle of a circle of 40 Kampong Chhnang clay pots.
She will break a pot by dropping it to the floor and then meticulously glue the pieces back together again.
Her time frame to get all 40 pots broken and repaired is 27 hours, over six days.
This means Sanford will have to glue at least one and a half pots per hour to meet her deadline.
“It’s not a lot of time,” Sanford said, not looking up from the pillow she was stitching by hand at Namu Café – the same pillow she will be sitting on for her performance.
“You quickly get into a rhythm of it, but at the same time it’s not something you can hurry, you need to stay focused,” she said, adding that the broken clay pieces ‘spoke’ to her, telling her which pieces to glue together.
Sanford’s father sent her to the US when she was two years old to escape the Khmer Rouge.
After a lifetime of no contact with her biological family she returned to Phnom Penh, her birthplace, in 2005 in search of them.
She later discovered that her father, who was from Kampong Chhnang, the same place she gets her pots, had been killed during the regime.
“Everyone has some form of a relationship with art,” she said.
“Sure there are personal parallels for me in my art, searching for my family was like trying to find a tiny little needle in a huge haystack. But my art is more than that – it’s also inspired by coming here and seeing how this place functions after so much trauma, about seeing what works and what doesn’t.”
Sanford will repair the pots as close to their original shape as possible though, she admitted, they would never look the same again – something which could be compared to the restoration of Cambodian society.
She hoped the meaning of the broken and restored pieces of her art would resonate with her audience.
“One time a man came up to me after seeing some of my work and said: ‘You just made a sculpture that shows how I feel every day’,” said the artist.
“That’s an amazing thing for an artist to hear.”
Though her performance will be done in view of an audience, Sanford clarifies that the performance is will not be interactive.
“This is a slow, meditative process. There will be no disco ball, glitz and glamour in this. People can hurry in and out as they please, or they can stay a while to watch the process.”
The 40 clay pots will be up for sale afterwards.
Sanford will be working on Full Circle from 1pm to 3pm and 6pm to 8.30pm from Tuesday, March 13, to Sunday, March 18, at Meta House 37 Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh.