British artist looks back on making art from the earth

Sasha Constable reflects on social and political issues in her work.
Sasha Constable reflects on social and political issues in her work. PHOTO SUPPLIED

British artist looks back on making art from the earth

A new, multi-venue retrospective from British sculptor Sasha Constable explores much more than the physical aspects of her career

After 15 years in Cambodia, British artist Sasha Constable is taking a look back. A retrospective of her work is to be hosted in six venues across Siem Reap, kicking off on November 21, when art lovers can make a date for coffee, canapes or cocktails with the artist at three of the venues.

As a young artist, Constable trained as a sculptor specialising in stone and first came to Cambodia when invited to work as the artist-in-residence by the World Monuments Fund.

Originally supposed to stay for just three weeks, she found herself captivated by Cambodia’s culture, history and people, and has lived here since, building a life as an artist, mentor, teacher, coordinator and curator.

Living at the doorstep of one of the world’s most extraordinary monumental stone carving sites has been a major influence.

“The temples are an endless inspiration to me,” said Constable. “Even when visiting the same temple over the years, I see different details, noticing a quirky everyday scene or particularly alluring apsara.

“Knowing how long it takes to carve a smaller than life-size sculpture, it was quite overwhelming to get an understanding of the incredible engineering involved with the buildings, let alone the intricate, meaningful carvings that adorn the temples.”

Working with the sandstone that is the prime material used in the temples, in particular for carved edifices, has given her another perspective on the lives of those who created them.

“I am not a huge fan of sandstone, it has to be said,” she admitted. “It’s an abrasive, brittle material and also has health hazards with potential silicosis if you don’t wear a mask. I have often thought about the ancient carvers and wondered how many suffered from silicosis and died as a consequence of creating these incredible structures.”

While stone carving has always been at the core of her work, Constable also draws on a variety of materials and techniques to express her vision while also addressing a range of other issues, like landmines and small arms proliferation, issues that have deeply affected Cambodia.

Reflecting all of the elements that have captivated Constable for the past 15 years, the exhibition features collections of linocuts, paintings, light installations, woodcuts and stone sculptures. It also includes two of the sculptures for which Constable has become most well-known: a series of 100 dynamic, confronting figures made from decommissioned AK-47s under the Peace Art Project, through which Constable trained 23 students in metalworking techniques.

Constable’s time here has powerfully influenced her work, in particular in how she has been able to use art as a way of building awareness about specific global issues, but it has also given her a prime position from which to observe the development of the arts scene in the Kingdom.

“There are a number of Cambodians now recognised at an international level, but my main hope is for a Cambodian contemporary market to emerge,” she said. “Very few Cambodians buy contemporary art at the moment. It is still predominately supported by foreigners, so it would be fabulous to witness more support from Cambodians to Cambodians in this area.”

On November 21, the opening event at Little Red Fox Espressos starts at 10am when the public can sit down for coffee with Constable.

Later in the day, she will be at Shinta Mani from 5pm for canapes, and then at Miss Wong from 7pm for cocktails. Her work will also be exhibited at AHA and The Sugar Palm. A private exhibition will open at Amansara Resort on December 18, which is by appointment only.

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