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A positive reflection on Cambodia taking flight

Viki Brooker spent nine months working with various collaborators to create Cambodia Rising. Anna Bella Betts
Viki Brooker spent nine months working with various collaborators to create Cambodia Rising. Anna Bella Betts

A positive reflection on Cambodia taking flight

Artist, DJ, teacher and bon vivant Viki Brooker spent this week putting the finishing touches on her installation at The Aviary hotel in central Siem Reap, alongside Central Market. In keeping with the hotel name, the work centres on birds, and she has built up a stunning collection of indigenous Cambodian species, each invested with its own unique meaning. The final result will be completed and open to the public this coming week. 

Brooker has been working on the creations for nine months now, designing, redesigning, reimagining and growing, all of which was entirely unexpected when she first got the commission. Nor did she expect that it could be such a unifying force, crossing boundaries of language, culture and class. 

“The installation was almost made in Vietnam,” said Brooker. “We had to find ways to make it here, and the more we did and let Cambodia in, the more it made sense, and the more people came together and got involved.”

“It was magic, really magic.” 

The result is a flock of almost 300 birds made in metal, leather and lacquer spread out around the hotel, as well as the central lobby installation, titled Cambodia Rising, which focuses on two metal Sarus Cranes looking up to the sky, their eyes fixed on a new dawn on Cambodia. 

“You hear a lot of bad things about Cambodia, but I wanted to make something positive, to look to the future. I’d love the piece to inspire young Cambodians to create,” she said.

Kingfishers, black bazas, blue-tailed bee eaters, tailor birds, hornbills, sarus cranes and, of course, giant ibis, soar and flit along the walls and corridors of the hotel.

Brooker has found meaning in each one, from the monogamous sarus crane, the largest flying bird in the world, which is a symbol of longevity, good fortune and healing, and whose broad range across land and air unites the physical and spiritual worlds, to the recently discovered tailor bird. 

The pieces were created in collaboration with Eric Stocker, who created the lacquer works, and Little Angels, a Siem Reap NGO that focuses on artisanal skills, including making the leather marionettes for the traditional shadow puppet theatre. The metal pieces were laser cut in Bangkok after Brooker had spent months researching, designing and redesigning Cambodia’s avian wildlife.

“When I showed the final result to Rattana [the director of Little Angels], he cried,” said Brooker. “He’s a very shy man, and was very reluctant at first to create the work. I had to really convince him. But the moment I showed him a picture of what he had helped to create, there were tears in his eyes.” 

According to Brooker, the project brought together people who may not otherwise have encountered one another. From the artisans, to the painters, the hotel staff, the lacquer workers, and more. 

“The thing I loved the most was how it smashed cultural, language and class barriers,” said Brooker.

“Because this piece brought together so many people who may not have met in everyday life. That’s the beauty of it”.

There is no official launch event planned for the exhibition Cambodia Rising, but it will be completed and viewable from next week.  

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