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Rebirth of capital art scene at collaborative show

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Filipino designer Reynier Abello says his entire collection for the show was built with the theme of genesis in mind. SUPPLIED

Rebirth of capital art scene at collaborative show

One evening last month at an art gallery in the capital, those attending arrived and saw a wall filled with photos and pictures – both film prints and paintings – combined together in an undeniably creative and stunning presentation that conveyed a sense of many different cultures and religions overlapping.

While the audience was absorbing the scenery created by the art around them, models strode in and out of the room wearing different outfits and clothing in a simultaneous art exhibition and fashion show featuring the works of a trio of collaborators with backgrounds in photography, painting and fashion.

The Genesis MMXXI exhibition opening took place on December 11-12, 2021, at FT Gallery and it will be on display until February, 6, 2022. The main collaborators for the exhibition are ARMADA founder and designer Reynier Abello, photographer Tyta Buth of Tytaart and the artist and curator/owner of FT Gallery, Fonki.

Reynier says the project takes traditional iconography from various cultures and religions and shifts the gender constructs into more progressive and open-minded conceptualisations which aims to highlight that even with shifts in traditional gender roles taking place, the underlying inherent power and beauty they depict remains unaffected or is even elevated and in this sense the exhibition is meant to reflect everyday life.

“Using the mediums of photography and painting to communicate the story of a fashion line that is an expression of the shifts in our collective attitude towards gender and how we perceive it isn’t really something Cambodia has ever seen before,” Tyta tells The Post.

Reynier, a fashion designer originally from the Philippines, says that due to the Covid-19 pandemic he found himself having to re-evaluate his life and his professional direction and this influenced his creative processes immensely and that’s where the idea of doing a different kind of fashion line sprung from.

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The main organisers are ARMADA fashion designer Reynier Abello, photographer Tyta Buth of Tytaart and FT Gallery owner Fonki. SUPPLIED

“When Cambodia went into the second wave of the pandemic towards the end of February this year, it was clear to me that my brand might not be able to do a proper runway presentation for our Spring/Summer collection Venus.

“The idea of doing something involving a highly artistic and conceptual series of photographs came to me while I was browsing through Facebook and came across Tyta’s work. Her body of work is truly inspiring and so in-tune with my brand ethos. I approached her and she said yes immediately. Later in the process, Fonki got involved – and then the rest of the artists,” Reynier tells The Post.

The exhibition and fashion show has since turned into a mammoth project involving more artists than he ever thought would be possible in Cambodia during a global pandemic and what began as a small idea for his latest fashion line has grown into a project involving almost 20 artists based in and around the Kingdom.

Apart from the clothing, paintings and photographs, there are digital paintings by Virekbot, graphic design by Jean Baptiste-Carraro, Graffiti-style painting by The Sokheng and Fonki, sculpture by Roma, drawings by Ryysa, tattoos by Tor, abstract expressionist paintings by Donvirao, traditional oil paintings by Sou Kimsan and calligraphy arts by Yalev.

Tyta says she feels very happy to know that another creative person trusted her judgment and her work and allowed her to create stories and shape the direction of the art to tell the story of his fashion line.

“This is my first time collaborating with fashion to this extent. The merger of different mediums to showcase a fashion line is something that Cambodia has not had for a long time and to bring it back and making it work this way was a great experience for me,” she says.

Fonki says he used to do collaborations with street clothing brands like t-shirt or shoe companies, but never with a high-fashion designer like Reynier, which was quite different from what he was used to or anticipated.

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The show also has digital painting by Virekbot and tattoos by Tor along with many other artists working in different mediums. SUPPLIED

“My role was inviting other artists and giving them a little direction on the narrative of the exhibition to see if they got inspired by it and obviously they were because they ended up participating in it. And bringing in Tyta’s photography and photo-shoots with Reynier’s clothing gave it a strong artistic direction.

“As a curator my goal is to give freedom to other artists to be inspired by the theme that we’re working with and the fact that this was done successfully in Cambodia with many local artists joining in was great fun and the process helped merge the different fields involved in the exhibition,” says Fonki.

Instead of wallowing in their troubles and bemoaning life’s difficulties during that challenging period of the pandemic, they made themselves busy making plans and creating art.

Reynier says his entire collection was designed with the theme of genesis in mind and he also coordinated and communicated with Tyta on how she wanted to style things and they even picked out a colour pallet for the collection together to make it all mesh with Tyta’s vision for her photographs .

Greek, Hindu and Filipino mythologies are merged to create the show’s imagery. Fonki and Tyta have Cambodian roots and they wanted to reflect back on their identity through the core values of their culture, which is Buddhist but strongly influenced by ancient Hinduism. For Reynier, as a Filipino, the pre-colonial Filipino mythology was an integral part of his heritage.

Greek mythology and classical Greek art and architecture – which has heavily influenced all of western culture for thousands of years – forms the core inspiration for the fashion design and the structure of the photography in terms of poses and gestures.

“Since we have three different cultures as the basic structure of the project, finding similarities and differences was an important factor for this. Through two months of research, I discovered that the gods and goddesses in these mythologies share very similar, if not the exact same values, roles and stories. So digging deep into the elements that tie them together, we wrote a new story for each piece and narrated the tales of modern gender identity through visual arts,” says Tyta.

The name Genesis is inspired from its original meaning of birth and rebirth or taking on new forms and interpretations. Genesis is selected as the name for this project because of its rebirth concept as all of the collaborators took a step outside of their comfort zones and decided to merge together their mediums to create a new final piece.

Tyta says that one of her favourite pieces in the exhibition is Sunbathing, her collaborative piece with Sou Kimsan. The story of this piece brings together three Sun gods from three myths and has them merging together and giving them a new narrative about gender and relationships.

“First, is normalizing modern relationships and respecting that as individuals we have the right to love anyone and love as many people as we want to as long as there is an equal balance of power and respect.

“Second, open your heart and accept that we all have different concepts of happiness and third is self-love. All truth comes from within and one must love and accept themselves – even your own imperfections and flaws – before you can truly love and accept someone else,” says Tyta.

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Hermaphrodite is a collaborative work of art with Tyta photographing Reynier’s fashion designs. SUPPLIED

Fonki’s favourite pick is a piece called hermaphrodite he worked on.

“I started with Reynier’s fashion design and then the next layer of Tyta’s photography. Taking time to meditate on the photography she made and try to add to it in a way that would blend and be complementary to her aesthetic. I wanted to do something clean and graphic so I opted for my Kbach graffiti style I have been doing for the past decade and I had it blend with their styles without one taking over the other,” Fonki says.

Reynier says he wasn’t always certain whether the end result they achieved would be worthy of the vision they had for the show while planning it, but in the end it came together very smoothly.

“I think this exhibition really pushed our creativity skills to the next level. This also shows that there’s beauty in working together and sharing individual talent and expertise for the purpose of achieving one common goal which is to inspire and to start a conversation,” says Reynier.

A portion of all sales will be donated to the Rainbow Community Kampuchea organization (ROCK). ROCK is a Cambodian NGO dedicated to supporting the LGBTQI+ community in the Kingdom, making it a good fit for the exhibition’s gender identity themes.

“Our advocacy and community engagement betters the lives of LGBTQI+ Cambodians across the capital and provinces and our core values fit perfectly with the Genesis MMXXI project,” says Adam Rodwell, speaking at the exhibition’s opening on behalf of ROCK.

Genesis MMXXI exhibition runs through February 6, 2022 at FT Gallery at The Factory at Urban Village in Phnom Penh.

For more information, check out the FT Gallery Facebook page: FTGalleryPhnomPenh

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