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Disarming beauty

HOTEL de la Paix’s Arts Lounge is going international, and the artist known as “Blake” is coming, in what is an art-world first for Asia, let alone Siem Reap.

The Arts Lounge has, until now, concentrated on showing local artists, mostly of the mixed media milieu. But on September 23 the venue will launch the Asian debut of Fragments, which, according to the press release, is not only “an evocative collection of sculptural works by renowned artist Blake”, but also an “emotive body of sculpture” that “addresses Southeast Asia’s tragic legacy of landmines”.

The feel-good, socially conscious exhibition will also double as a fundraiser – 30 percent of sales will be donated to the Siem Reap-based NGO Cambodian Self Help Demining, founded by former child soldier and now CNN Hero-nominee Aki Ra.

The exhibition comprises 15 bronze sculptures, and each work is named after a type of landmine.

The artist Blake, otherwise known as Blake Ward, was born in Yellowknife, Canada, raised in Edmondton and studied fine arts at the University of Alberta. In 1985 he moved to Paris to further study sculpture, and then went on to Monaco in 1991 to open his Monte Carlo studio.

His sculptures are categorised into three thematic groups: Traditional Figurative Blake sculpture explores notions of idealised beauty; the Re-Think collection is dedicated to the promotion of human rights; and the Fragments series of “dis-figurative work is dedicated to the survivors of landmines”.

Blake’s interest in the landmine issue in this region stems from his six-week visit to Vietnam in 2003 to teach at the Hanoi Fine Arts University. This was the first time a western professor had led classes at the institution since 1945, and during his time on the assignment, he travelled through Vietnam and Cambodia, becoming aware of the ongoing landmine legacy of a war that supposedly ended in April 1975.

His landmine sculptures are purposefully confrontational. Inspired by classical Roman torsos that showed the perfection of the human body, his Fragments works conversely show disfigured, dismembered and limbless bodies.

As the BBC reported in November of 2007, “Limbs have been torn off and flesh ripped apart. A woman has a breast missing. Yet the injured bodies are strangely beautiful. They are art – with a difference.”

Since 2007 the exhibition has done the rounds of Europe and North America and, over a two-year period, Blake has donated three-quarters of the profits from sales of the sculptures to a variety of de-mining groups – about $200,000 in all.

Coincidentally, on Sunday, his newest exhibition concludes in Canada. This is a video installation titled The Burning Buddha to pressure international leaders who refuse to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

To make the video, Blake sculpted a bronze statue of a naked girl seated in the lotus position. He poured gasoline over the figure and lit her on fire. A narrator identifies the countries that have not ratified the agreement.

This gives a good insight into where the artist is at and, on September 23, he’ll be at the Arts Lounge in person.

Blake told 7Days, “I will be there. I arrive a few days before.”

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