Leading figures from Hong Kong’s flourishing art scene have turned their attention to contemporary Cambodian art ahead of a new exhibition in the metropolis, poised to open on Saturday.
Five Cambodian artists who work across different mediums – from the jagged discarded wood and debris sculptures of Mao Soviet to painter Phousera Ing’s moody ink, charcoal and oil swirls – will exhibit their work in the show, named SITE/CAMBODIA, at the Karin Weber gallery.
The artists hail from vastly different backgrounds: Soviet is from a poor rural village in Battambang, photographer Kim Hak grew up in the same city but under different socio-economic conditions, while Sera fled the Khmer Rouge with his French mother in 1975, never seeing his father again.
Multimedia artist Anida Yoeu Ali was born in Cambodia but raised in Chicago and will be featured through three vivid, stylised performance images and a video piece, while Battambang-born art teacher Srey Bandaul’s organ-like, colourful sculptures round out the exhibition. Hak’s poignant images allude to the Khmer Rouge’s mass evacuation of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. Themes of space, memory and identity lace the pieces together.
“There is a wonderful evolution of art happening at the nascent stages in Cambodia,” Hong Kong-based art dealer and curator Katie de Tilly said in an email yesterday.
“I look forward to more artists being exhibited on the international stage from Cambodia. With the lack of Cambodian collectors [in Hong Kong] I assume it will first be appreciated from Western or other Asian collectors leading the way to a confidence in certain artists, much as was done in China in the early days.”
De Tilly, whose gallery hosted the first survey of contemporary Cambodian art in 2009, has championed Asian art for the past two decades, having shown the celebrated, politically charged paintings and mixed media of Chinese artist Huang Rui, Wang Keping and the Hong Kong based art group MAP office, at her slick SoHo gallery, 10 Chancery Lane.
She has also represented bodies of work by Southeast Asian artists, including Phnom Penh sculptor Sopheap Pich’s glossy, latticed grids and curvaceous bamboo and rattan sculptures to the idiosyncratic Saigon-based production mob The Propeller Group, along with Cambodian artists Vandy Rattana, Leang Seckon and Khvay Samnang.
Keen collectors should look at art from the entire Asian region rather than focusing on the contemporary, often radical, Chinese art currently in vogue, said Hong Kong art critic John Batten.
“The Chinese contemporary art juggernaut and its promoters overwhelms attention away from the excellent art being done in Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia. Smart art viewers never look at the obvious and hyped – but search out what is artistically good. Contemporary Cambodian art is good.”
The interest in Cambodia specifically, can be attributed in part to the ripple effect of New York arts festival Season of Cambodia in April and May, said Jade Ouk, an account manager for arts communications giant Sutton Asia PR.
“No doubt that has influenced international collectors and piqued people’s interest in contemporary Cambodian arts,” she said.
SITE/CAMBODIA curator Kate O’Hara from Phnom Penh’s Romeet gallery said she had been interested in bringing together diaspora and local artists.
Artist Yoeu Ali saw the exhibition as a “natural course … in terms of contemporary art becoming more recognised.
“I think it is all part of what has been happening with Season of Cambodia, all the things that have been happening …many other great exhibitions – Chancery Lane in Hong Kong, Singapore Biennale, in Berlin – new artists are being recognised. It shifts the focus on it all being about European and American markets too and highlights that Hong Kong is one of most important and rapidly growing places for art and art centres.”