As a young Cambodian artist, I am the heir to a rich yet troubled tradition. Cambodia has a long history of artists, dating back to the artisans who built Angkor Wat. At that time art was an integral part of Cambodian life. In the 1970s the Khmer Rouge decimated this tradition. It was forbidden to paint or draw and those suspected of being artists were killed. The Khmer Rouge were even suspicious of color, mandating that only black and white be worn. Over the past few decades Cambodia has been struggling to recover it’s own artistic identity. In my own work I pose the question: What constitutes modern Cambodian art?
My subjects are based on the Cambodian experience, I have made work that draws its inspiration from Hinduism and Buddhism (the key influential religions), Cambodian culture and history—especially the Khmer Rouge era. Through my own research I pull the past and present together with raw materials and compose them to make statements about current social and political issues. Many young people don’t know about our past or what the previous generations have gone through. As an artist I want to show where we have come from and where we are going.
Many Cambodian artists aspire to make work that mimics photography. I believe my own work, although less representational, is more real. When I make collages I bring the real world in to my work with the notes, photographs, and materials I stitch on to the canvas. It is then necessary for me to paint and draw on and around the materials to create a full concept. If I were to just paint a picture the public might say I had invented it, but a collage offers a form of documentation because the objects within it are a part of history. My work presents the reality of young Cambodians in a concrete way.