In Battambang artist Chea Sereyroth’s new exhibition, "Mohuntakray" (“Disaster”), cars float down rivers, atomic bombs detonate in huge mushroom clouds and lonely survivors wander through wastelands.
The scenes, taken from disasters worldwide including the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami as well as the recent flooding in northeast Cambodia, are intended to shock viewers into caring about the environment, according to the 24-year-old artist.
He believes the 10 hand-painted pieces represent a possible future for Cambodia if the country continues on its current course.
“The artwork is about the environment and problems such as climate change,” Sereyroth said in a Skype interview from Battambang.
“The people in Cambodia at the moment don’t know or care about these problems.”
A graduate of the arts program at Battambang’s Phare Ponleu Selpak arts centre, Sereyroth now works in the institute’s graphic design unit.
"Mohuntakray" – which opens at Phnom Penh’s Romeet Gallery on Friday night – is his first solo exhibition.
He said that he painted the works using his bare hands and fingers with sawdust, mud and acrylic paint on raw canvas.
“I use my hands so that I can be closer to the artwork,” he said. “When there’s nothing in between, my ideas go straight from me to the work.”
Sereyroth’s has had works featured in several group shows, and three of his earth-toned paintings depicting life under the Khmer Rouge were selected for exhibition at last year’s Singapore’s SPOT ART festival, a high-quality, Asia-wide juried art event for artists under 30.
“The other artists at the festival were really nice and the artworks there were wonderful and inspiring,” he said.
Sereyroth had already been considering making a series of artworks about environmental concerns, but it was after returning home from the festival that he was really was struck by the difference in Cambodia and Singapore’s attitudes to nature.
Singapore was spotlessly clean and tidy while rubbish and detritus were strewn everywhere in Cambodia.
In Singapore – a city-state – there were no natural environmental features. Instead, the residents built artificial waterfalls and parks with trees.
“Here we have waterfalls and trees and parks but we don’t care about them and destroy them,” Sereyroth said.
Sereyroth said he was worried about issues such as the impact of industry, logging, energy production and land development, while events such as last year’s Battambang floods and cyclone in the Philippines also influenced the artworks.
He said he used simple, powerful images that he thought would best convey his message, as well as large canvases so the works would have a greater impact.
He added: “I want the audience to feel sad and understand and think about the problems.”
“I hope the audience understand my idea and tell other people.”
Mohuntakray opens on Friday night at Romeet Contemporary Art Space, #34E Street 178, at 6:30pm and will run until June 15.