You may find that “Cambodian contemporary art” sounds unfamiliar, but it is actually emerging in the international art world. Cambodian contemporary artists were engaged in some international group exhibitions last year in Palais de Tokyo, Paris. This year, another French city, Lille would hold an exhibition solely of Cambodian artists, which is fresh, intriguing and educational at the same time. The exhibition “Phnom Penh” (capital of Cambodia) is part of the theme with four other cities under “Lille 3000 – Renaissance”. “Lille 3000” is a large-scale cultural programme with exhibitions, public installations, theatre programmes, etc. spreading all over Lille, which was elected as the European Capital of Culture in 2004.
Cambodia is recovering from its painful history of Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) which destroyed almost everything in the country, including art and culture. The recent rapid economic development is going alongside the reconstruction of its art sector. Bearing rich cultural tradition, Cambodian artists are constructing their new ways in the contemporary art scene. Seen from such contexts of the country, their art is refreshingly unique, and goes particularly well with the theme “Renaissance”.
The “Phnom Penh” exhibition consists of different mediums of art including painting, photograph, sculpture, video of performance and film, by both internationally recognised artists and those who have not before been exhibited.
Paintings by Theanly Chov depict people trying to get their heads out of water to breathe, symbolised by a line discreetly crossing their faces at mouth level. This is a metaphor for the situation of the artist himself and other ordinary people in his country who might have benefited little from the economic development.
Anida Yoeu Ali, who had an art performance at Palais de Tokyo, Paris last year, is one of the foremost performance artists in the world. The current exhibition displays a video of her poetic and aesthetic performance, where she appears to be dancing in the middle of rice fields –the representative kind of landscape of Cambodia. It is an act of rediscovery of the Cambodian countryside, departing from the growing city of Phnom Penh.
Another artist, Ti Tit is without any artistic or technical training, and started initially as a blogger, who kept posting funny pictures accompanied with provocative captions, either in French, English or Khmer. For example, he stages fake suicides to instigate existential questions. Born after 1990, this very young artist puts us in the perspective of the young generation in a rapidly developing Cambodia.
This exhibition gathering three generations of artists could give an overview of Cambodia’s traumatised history and recent economic development. Transformation and the search for an identity (or a new one) seem inevitably to be recurrent themes in Cambodian contemporary art … or actually in the art of our time in general?