When Eng Rithchandaneth travelled to the United States in December for a month-long residency in Vermont and a stop in New york, it was the first time the 23-year-old artist had left Cambodia.
“I was afraid to get into my studio – I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Rithchandaneth said. The resulting two-part work – a sculpture installation and a video – comes to Phnom Penh this evening as part of a multi-disciplinary exhibition at Sa Sa Bassac.
Futurographies, which features the work of 11 different artists, explores disparate themes about the relationship between Cambodia and the West and crossing between the two. Three of the artists are based in Phnom Penh, while the rest are members of the Cambodian diaspora, working either in the US or France.
The initial iteration of the exhibition was conceived by a team of students and artists at the New School, a university in New York City, and went on show there from November to January.
One highlight was My Asian Americana, a video piece by Studio Revolt, a team based in Cambodia and the US. The work shares the stories of Cambodian-american deportees: nostalgia for their childhood in the US, and a readjustment to their new home in Cambodia.
Flags hung from the gallery wall by Korean-American artist David Kyu were a blend between those of Southeast Asian nations – Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam – and the American stars and stripes. The photography of Pete Pin, who splits his time between Phnom Penh and the US, explored his Cambodian family history. Visual and written journals by Chath Piersath recorded his experiences in Cambodia, the US, France and Turkey.
Bringing the works to Phnom Penh, co-curators Chum Chanveasna and Robert McDonald have transformed Sa Sa Bassac’s gallery in Phnom Penh into a lively conversation between the artists’ varied work.
However, McDonald said yesterday that the Sa Sa Bassac curators wanted to adjust the emphasis for the local audience.
“We wanted to use the opportunity here to focus the show on a bit of a different angle – something more about the foundation of the diaspora,” McDonald explained.
That foundation includes sculpture by Yim Maline, a local documentary project by the Genealogy of Bassac Group and the work of Rithchandaneth, who began her artistic career with Sa Sa Art Projects in 2012.
Daneth’s work, Feeling, Destroy which is new for the Phnom Penh exhibition, is striking: a video of the artist throwing her own sculptures into a river in Vermont, making them part of the riverbed. Those that remain – clay representations of skulls and bones – will be on display in the gallery.
“I didn’t want to bring it back to Cambodia – I wanted to keep it in the US,” she said.
She added that her work deals with both these personal themes and larger ones: the differences between the US and Cambodia, the future, and “what happens at the end of development”.
For Sa Sa Bassac, which often displays the work of Cambodian artists on their own, an exhibition with so many artists offered curators an opportunity to create something unique.
“You get to create dialogues between different artists’ work. When you do solo exhibitions, it’s more about the dialogue between the artists and their own work,” McDonald said.
After its run at Sa Sa Bassac – made possible by a crowdfunding campaign – the exhibition will travel to the New School’s Paris gallery.
“When my work can exhibit in New York or in another country, it makes me really happy,” said Rithchandaneth.
“My work goes first, before me,” she added with a smile.
Futurographies opens tonight at 6pm Sa Sa Bassac, #18E2 Sothearos Boulevard. The exhibition runs through March 26.