Bitter historical chapter inspires sculptor’s modern day statement

Sculptor Bo Rithy comes from Battambang. His work has been shown at Singapore’s Spot Art Festival.
Sculptor Bo Rithy comes from Battambang. His work has been shown at Singapore’s Spot Art Festival. Charlotte Pert

Bitter historical chapter inspires sculptor’s modern day statement

In his new installation, the artist Bo Rithy draws parallels between Cambodia’s historical struggles and recent political turmoil. Will Jackson reports.

A bitter chapter in Cambodia’s history inspired Battambang artist Bo Rithy’s new installation, Longvaek’s Bamboo.

In the 16th century, amid a long period of internal strife and conflict with the neighbouring Siamese empire, the Khmer Kingdom’s capital was moved to a fortress at Longvaek, about 65km northwest of Phnom Penh.

The site was chosen because it was easily defencible, surrounded by a 160m-thick bamboo forest.

So, the apocryphal story goes, the natural defences helped thwart a siege by the Siamese forces.

But as they retreated, the Siamese used catapults to fling silver coins among the bamboo.

After the people of Longvaek cut the down bamboo to collect the silver, the Siamese returned and sacked the fortress.

The fall of Longvaek has been described by historians as catastrophic for the Kingdom, which was forced to remain a vassal of the Siamese and Vietnamese until the country became a French protectorate in the mid-19th century.

During a break from installing the work at Romeet gallery in Phnom Penh earlier this week, Rithy drew parallels between the story and the Kingdom’s current situation.

Rithy said that now, as then, the country’s leaders are grasping among themselves for power leaving the people vulnerable to exploitation.

“The bamboo is like the people. Together we are strong, but when we are divided then we can be defeated,” he said.

Rithy, 26, is a Phare Ponleu Selpak visual arts alumnus who has exhibited in nine solo and group shows in Battambang and Phnom Penh since 2009. Last year, Rithy’s work Don’t Answer was chosen to be part of Singapore’s Spot Art Festival.

The idea for his latest work came last year, after the national elections in July, he revealed.

He noticed that people in his village were increasingly divided – they seemed less friendly, didn’t share their food like they did before and argued more and more about the problems facing the country.

Rithy is extremely cynical about the motivations of the country’s politicians.

“They only want to run the country for their party’s own benefit,” he said.

He decided to create a physical metaphor of his hopes for the Cambodian people, spending hours at his Battambang art studio with friends or at home with his family drilling holes in the bamboo pieces and threading them together with wire.

The result was an installation of two parts.

One is a 15m sculpture made of hundreds of criss-crossed bamboo segments strung together with metal wire. Like the spine of an enormous animal, it’s flexible but strong.

The other resembles a throne-like chair covered in razor wire surrounded by hundreds of loose bamboo segments.

Rithy said he wanted to convey the idea that individuals united could be powerful and, like the mythical naga, defeat the evils besetting the country such as corruption and land grabbing.

And, like the bamboo forest in the tale, together they could repel those attempting to steal Cambodia’s riches.

“We can contribute to the reconstruction of our nation towards development like in the Angkor period and break free from the hand of foreigners who are intending to swallow our territories,” he wrote in an artist’s statement.

“And we can take part in absolute opposition against any politicians who are deceiving and selling their ideals and territories, [who are] extremist, nepotistic, self-interested and taking the people as hostages in exchange for power.”

The exhibition opening of Longvaek’s Bamboo is tonight at Romeet,#34E1 Street 178 from 6.30pm.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen’s China visit ‘a good opportunity’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Beijing on Sunday to discuss economic and trade issues presents a good opportunity for the Kingdom to strengthen Chinese ties and counter punitive measures by the West, an analyst says. The prime minister’s four-day official visit to

  • Former chief bodyguard receives royal pardon

    The former chief bodyguard of late Senate president Chea Sim has received a royal pardon nearly eight years after he was sentenced to 15 years behind bars on several charges, according to a royal decree dated November 12, last year, and obtained by The Post on Wednesday.

  • Close to the edge: Hair raising pictures from Kulen Mountain

    A new hair raising attraction on Kulen Mountain has finally opened to the public, with people flocking to the protruding cliff edge overlooking green mountainous forests to take photographs. The giant overhanging rock is situated in an area known as Mahendraparvata – an ancient city of

  • US warned not to interfere despite successful meeting

    A senior Ministry of National Defence official said the Tuesday meeting between the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia Joseph H Felter and General Neang Phat had helped strengthen relations between the two countries’ militaries. However, a senior Cambodian People’