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Painter Prum Vichet’s bright, vibrant canvases still fit with the serious themes of the group exhibition "The New Age: Until Now".
Painter Prum Vichet’s bright, vibrant canvases still fit with the serious themes of the group exhibition "The New Age: Until Now". Nick Street

Recycle of life: rebuilding and destroying in this ‘new age’

Using Cambodia’s roads can be a hairy experience. It also tends to be a not altogether sober one, as artist Meas Sokhorn aims to get across in his installation H.E. Drink and Drive, part of "The New Age: Until Now" exhibition opening tonight at Java Gallery.

H.E. Drink and Drive is a curious work: a mass of black fibreglass in an unidentifiable shape, puckered by dents that resemble craters on rock or the imprints of facial features. Ominous red paint trickles around the construction, while broken glass bottles hang off the bottom on strings.

Sokhorn blames the media and advertising for glamourising alcohol and presenting it as something that can give people power, rather than something to be wary of.

“Why do people always celebrate with a drink?” he asked. “There’s always more drinking, and always more accidents.”

For him, drink-driving is an unfortunate aspect of Cambodia’s new age. "The New Age" is an exhibition featuring five contemporary artists: Sokhorn, Prum Vichet, Sou Sophy, Chhim Sothy and Phe Sophon.

Curated by young artist Reaksmey Yean, it aims to portray the fluidity of contemporary Cambodia, post-Paris Peace Agreement of 1991, but also the other ‘new ages’ of the 20th century: “'The New Age' could also represent when Sihanouk achieved independence from France … and then the Lon Lol time, the Khmer Rouge and then after the Vietnamese occupation,” Yean said. “The question [in this exhibition] is about the energy of rebuilding and destroying, so we’re talking about whether past events have been passed on to contemporary society or the contemporary Cambodian society itself has the energy of rebuilding and destroying.”

In this exhibition the curator showcases a wide range of artistic skills. Recycle of Life and Destroying and Rebuilding are collaborative paintings by Prum Vichet and Chhim Southy. For this, each artist wrote about their views on contemporary Cambodia, with Vichet then visualising the ideas. These paintings depict the exhibition brief neatly: each work depicts a flower through the stages of blossoming, gradually becoming a more dark and powerful entity, having destroyed its surroundings in its wake.

Destroying and Rebuilding is particularly striking, linking the power and military might of missiles, tanks, warships and tall buildings, with phallic imagery. The earth beneath is dry, cracked and worn, suggesting that with rebuilding comes inevitable destruction.

“This is about people creating things, but at the same time, the people who build become destroyers. It’s very similar to Cambodia today. For instance if you go to the jungle, there are trees maybe 20 metres from the path but when you get to the middle, it’s just a field without trees,” Vichet said.

While Vichet’s work is political and thought provoking, its vibrant colours are also brightly appealing. Sou Sophy’s The Black Rain is, as the title might lead you to expect, dark and dreary. A pencil and ink work on canvas, the picture depicts a small boy lying upside down behind what appear to be black drops of rain.

“Black rain is a metaphor of cruelty, an unjust system and bad experiences,” Sophy said. “Though Cambodia has passed the black rain of the Khmer Rouge, it seems that the shadow and a new sort of black rain exists again within contemporary Cambodia.”

"The New Age: Until Now" opens at Java Gallery & Cafe this evening at 6pm and runs until October 13.

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