The Jorng Jam exhibition – one of a series of events in this month’s multi-site Our City Festival of urban art, ideas and architecture – uses old family photos to tell personal stories and inspire new art exploring the important interrelationships between family members. Jorng Jam means “remember” in Khmer. Artist Kong Vollak, filmmaker Neang Kavich and photographers Neak Sophal and Kim Hak collected a series of snaps from the 1950s and 1960s and interviewed family members and then used the material collected to create the new artworks. Here’s a taste of the exhibition, which will be on at the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre opening on Saturday, January 25, at 3pm and running until Sunday, February 8. Will Jackson reports.
Photographer Neak Sophal chose not to investigate her own family’s history and memories because all their photographs were destroyed in a house fire in 2005. Instead, she interviewed her teacher from the Royal University of Fine Arts, Chan Vitharin. “I asked him to select a few of his old photographs then interviewed him about why they were important,” she said. The photos that Vitharin chose all relate in some way to his journey in the art of photography: his first attempts using a camera, the moment he decided to study photography overseas and a photograph of his late father that, after beginning the Jorng Jam project, made Vitharin consider more the role of photography as documentation rather than art. “After I interviewed Vitharin I was really interested in what he told me about his work and life; living in a good family, his father as a teacher and mother as a housewife,” Sophal said. After she had finished interviewing her mentor, Sophal took a single new photograph that spoke about her thoughts on the topic.
Born two years after the Khmer Rouge were expelled from Phnom Penh, photographer Kim Hak, 32, grew up listening to his family talk about the time before and during Pol Pot’s genocidal regime. He said the Jorng Jam exhibition was an opportunity to go back and probe a little deeper into the stories. Kim used a series of objects as well as photographs as a starting point as he interviewed his parents and elder siblings about their memories. “[The objects] are very intimate,” he said. “Through them, I have learned some historical stories. They become to be very important sources and inspiration.” Kim said he titled the project Alive because he believes it’s important to ensure that memories and stories don’t die or become lost. On display in the exhibition will be new photographs of each of the objects with a “clue” about an accompanying story or memory. For example, along with a photograph of a perfume bottle he found as a child – which may have been buried by the previous owner as they were forced to evacuate by the Khmer Rouge – is a handful of sand. Kim said that he planned to expand on the work he begun on Jorng Jam for a solo exhibition down the track, delving deeper into his family’s stories and incorporating more photographs.