Promoting environmental consciousness by observing Cambodia’s past while simultaneously looking forward to the future. That’s what some of the Kingdom’s most celebrated artists plan to achieve by collaborating in a new exhibition called Face Forward at the Treeline Gallery in Siem Reap’s historic Old French Quarter.
The contemporary art exhibition opened on January 26 and will run until March 31, and features work by Sopheap Pich, Thang Sothea, Nov Cheanick, Asasax and HKA & Partners focusing on the themes of sustainable consumption and production.
The exhibition was the vision of pioneering architect Hok Kang, Treeline Urban Resort’s founder.
“I wanted to create a sanctuary that communicates our deep-rooted respect of nature whilst celebrating the vision of contemporary Cambodia, as reflected in the design of Treeline [Urban Resort], in the artwork we feature and the artists we work with,” he said.
Kang has dedicated the exhibition to the local community, hoping that through the environmental ethos of the work they will implement better land care practices, plant trees along the riverside, ban single-use plastics and only choose eco-friendly suppliers.
“Doing so meant that we had to be mindful of the tiniest of details to create immersive experiences for our guests. Through Treeline Urban Resort, we have a thorough commitment to building a better new world,” he said.
The exhibition features Battambang-born Cambodian-American artist Sopheap Pich, who has exhibited his work across the globe, including in major museum collections like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Paris’ Centre Georges Pompidou and Brisbane’s Queensland Art Gallery.
Pich initially studied at the University of Massachusetts in the US and in 1999 was awarded a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Art Institute of Chicago.
He returned to his home country in 2002, where he began working with local materials – bamboo, rattan, burlap, beeswax and earth pigments – gathered from around Cambodia to make sculptures inspired by bodily organs, vegetal forms and abstract geometric structures.
Much of his work looks as though it could have emerged from nature itself – with earthy, wiry structures reminiscent of an animal’s nest his signature style.
And displayed at Treeline Gallery are two of Pich’s mammoth sculptures reflecting the close relationship of everyday life to nature, space and sound. The first is named Ordette and the second, Rang Phnom, is a vine-like structure of flower clusters from the cannonball tree.
“Treeline is indeed a resort like no other – it masterfully blends Cambodian old-world charm with the contemporary vibrancy of our nation’s emerging arts scene,” said the 48-year-old artist, explaining why he chose to collaborate with the resort.
“Working with Treeline to create a haven of art has been an exciting experience, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with them to share our artworks with Cambodians and international travellers alike,” he added.
Sharing the gallery space with Pich is the artwork of Thang Sothea, a self-taught Cambodian artist with a degree in architecture and urban planning, which explores traditional materials from his childhood.
Sothea’s sculptures are made from palm leaves, copper, steel, stone, hemp and St Thomas beans – which are also used to play traditional games during Khmer New Year.
The 36-year-old artist from Kampong Cham province told The Post in an earlier interview that art for him was not about making a profit, but expressing himself.
“I’m always excited to create new works both in art and architecture. As an artist, I rarely make it profitable, but I’m always happy when someone invites me for their project. Through my experience in drawing, architectural design and sculpture, I understand the relationship between the three very well,” he said.
Also featured at Face Forward is a series of abstract acrylic paintings by 30-year-old painter Nov Cheanick.
Cheanick dropped out of school aged 13 to study painting in Battambang province at an art school established by Cambodian non-profit Phare Ponleu Selpak. He has since gone on to exhibit his work in the US, Paris and Hong Kong.
His images are abstract in nature, depicting human and animal figures, bodies of water, states of being, skies, the earth and maps.
“I never follow instruction – I believe in the freedom of how we produce our artwork in the broad meaning,” Cheanick said.
Less abstract artwork on display includes elephant sculptures by 57-year-old jeweller-turned-artist Asasax, who studied at Phnom Penh’s School of Fine Arts, receiving a diploma in jewellery in 1985.
His work features a collection on King Norodom Sihanouk, various foreign diplomats and Phnom Penh Airport.
Last but not least is a piece by HKA & Partners named Cosmic Wheel – made from brass, tensile cable, and fishing net – standing in Treeline Urban Resort’s courtyard.
Representing the crossover between architecture, art and design, Cosmic Wheel is an abstract and playful interpretation of a waterwheel that was once used in Cambodian rural communities in times past.
Face Forward will be shown at the Treeline Gallery until March 31 and is located on Achar Sva Street, in Sala Kamroeuk commune’s Wat Bo Village, Siem Reap province. For more information, you can contact Treeline Urban Resorts on Facebook (@treelinehotels).