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Asian pop culture inspires artist

VIêT Lê, a Vietnamese artist currently living in Phnom Penh, will open his first solo show titled Boy Bang, tonight at Java Café and Gallery on Sihanouk Boulevard, in an exhibition that runs until November 28.

The project, which started three years ago, consists of campy images of fake Asian boy bands and solo performers in various personas and costumes. Posters of all sizes for concert tours as well as movies are arranged in a photo installation.

The artist aims to explore the explosion of pop culture in several Asian countries. “I’m interested both in what a nation-state desires and what consumers desire and how these desires are reflected in pop culture,” he says.

Through parody and word play, the series deals with issues of cross-cultural translation and mistranslation. A boy band is thus called Viêt Q, referring to a viêt kiev, a Vietnamese person who migrates overseas. Viêt Lê also plays with the numerous stereotypes on Asian men, often seen as “geeky, nerdy and awkward”, he says.

“Humour is a way to tackle serious issues,” explains the artist. Inspired by his own history – his parents escaped the war and went to the United States – he wonders whether pop is a way of addressing the twin traumas of modernisation and history.

Lê is also a researcher who, before having his friends pose for him, first thinks of the message he wants to transmit. Playing with fiction and reality, he questions the boundaries of community and identity.

“I like to show how pop culture crosses the borders. It’s interesting to see that with Japan and Singapore, which are really developed, young people can look at Asian models.”

For the opening tonight, Cambodian group Cartoon Emo will be rocking live at 7:30pm. Posters will be sold during the exhibition and will range from US$200 to $2,000.

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