BATTAMBANG artist Svay Sareth’s unusual new exhibition was launched last night at the Arts Lounge of Siem Reap’s Hôtel de la Paix.
The exhibition, entitled Tuesday, features paintings, sculptures, and installations exploring ideas of survival and perseverance against the odds inspired by the 1719 Daniel Defoe novel Robinson Crusoe.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is a 200-kilogram boat constructed in 2009 while Svay Sareth was studying at the d’Études des Arts Plastiques in France.
Svay Sareth, who had no experience in boat-building, single-handedly handcrafted a traditional curved-frame boat of wood and resin for four months.
He named his boat Tuesday after the day he finished building it, emulating Robinson Crusoe who named his companion “Friday” after the day he found him.
Unsure if his boat would sink or float, Svay Sareth put the boat on a cart that he’d also built and pushed it 27 kilometres for 11 consecutive hours through rural and urban Normandy in France, until he reached the sea.
A video, Adieu/ Goodbye, that documents this trek, accompanies the exhibition.
Svay Sareth told 7Days that he originally read Robinson Crusoe when he was 17, and later returned to the book when contemplating his return to Cambodia after studying in Paris.
“I was still interested with his story, it was still in my mind when I was thinking how I could return to my own country.”
Svay Sareth’s voluntary agent, Bassac Arts founder Erin Gleeson in Phnom Penh, sees parallels between the plot of the Robinson Crusoe novel and Svay Sareth’s experience as a refugee on the Thai border during the Khmer Rouge period and the emotions he felt following his return to Cambodia after studying abroad.
Gleeson said: “Many of the pieces are a reflection on the idea of perseverance and endurance, and what does it mean to wait.”
She said many of the other themes explored in Robinson Crusoe, including adventure, despair and survival, are all present in Svay Sareth’s work. She added that she sees the idea of the boat both as a metaphor for the artist’s experience as a refugee, and as a celebration of “taking risk with great hope”.
Svay Sareth was born in 1972 in Battambang province, and was a member of the small and historic group of children who studied art in the Site 2 refugee camps with Véronique Decrop.
Later, he co-founded Phare Ponleu Selpak, a private art school in Battambang. In 2002, he continued his studies in France, and earned the Diplôme National Supérieur d’Études des Arts Plastiques in 2009.
His exhibition at the Arts Lounge at Hôtel de la Paix will run from March 3 to May 5.