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Rubbish exhibits with an aim to clean up city

CAMBODIA artist Meas Sokhorn, 33, uses bits of rubbish found on the streets of Phnom Penh to create environmentally aware sculptures that will be displayed at the French Cultural Center (CCF) starting tonight to raise awareness of environmental preservation issues.

Meas Sokhorn, who graduated in 2004 from the Royal University of Fine Arts with qualifications in decoration, came up with the idea while drinking coffee at a café in Phnom Penh to display works made with waste material.

On that afternoon, he observed dust being blown about as cars and motorbikes whizzed past. He used his hands to block the dirty plumes from entering his mouth, nose and coffee cup, but then a soiled plastic bag whirled in off the street, catching on his leg.

“It’s not a new story,” he said. “I’ve met the same situation many times already. But [objects like] this plastic bag seemed to inspire me to do something to change behaviour.”

Meas Sokhorn is concerned with the fact that rubbish is thrown arbitrarily on the sidewalks and empty areas of land. People don’t take the time to bundle their trash in bags, so vehicles and wind constantly blow the filth around the city. As such, the artist’s concept stems from how people’s actions affect those around them. In this case, how the constant presence of waste impacts the city’s residents, both physically and mentally, through the smells it creates and the threat of disease.

“That’s why I collect these pieces of rubbish to display. I want to use them as a mirror to reflect the activity of people in society,” Meas Sokhorn said.

The name of the exhibition, Trash Fix, reflects the notion that rubbish is not stagnant, but transitory, moving from place to place, just like the traffic that enables it to change locations. Meas Sokhorn’s message is simple: Wrap your garbage, put it in the bin and keep it all in one place where it can be collected easily.

Meas Sokhorn also noted that the amount of waste produced by restaurants is a worry. Speaking out against the practice of flippantly discarding napkins and uneaten food on the floor, he says it’s as though customers are sitting on a “dumpsite” while having a meal.

“People drop their waste on the floor under their table when they are eating, so it appears as if they are sitting on a pile of rubbish.... If we can abolish such behaviour, that will be good,” said Meas Sokhorn.

Having collected rubbish in the forms of plastic bottles, coconut shells, banana leaves, dresses, newspapers, aluminium cans, food wrappers and plastic bags over a period of time, Meas Sokhorn’s bounty eventually came to weigh over 600 kilograms. The artist refuses to wash the items, preferring instead to leave them as they were found to show the true reality of the pollution. He does, however, avoid using decomposable waste such as vegetables and other foods, so his sculptures don’t give off the smell he’d like the Penh’s residents to not have to encounter in the streets.

In one of his works, Meas Sokhorn displays bags upon bags of waste in a cart pulled by a bicycle, known in Cambodia as romork kang.

“When people see romork kang they think about [the amount of trash being produced]. In the exhibition, I hope that when people see rubbish in the cart, they will think about our environment,” he said.

Also included in the show is a water pipe and drain that Meas Sokhorn finds important as many people use this infrastructure to filter their waste, which leads to blockages and floods in parts of the city.

“I don’t want people to get ideas from this work and start using water pipes to dump their waste. Instead, I hope the exhibition will inspire them to change their attitudes. In the least to stop dropping rubbish everywhere,” he said.

Trash Fix opens tonight at 7pm at CCF (218 Street 184) and will be on show for three weeks.

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