Consistent with Chath pierSath’s work as an artist and writer, Khmer Lessons is an investigation into the past and his memories. It is equally an exploration of language, which for Chath is directly linked to his personal narrative. It is in search of this story that he perpetually re-constructs found images and text from the mass media. He tears and cuts these images and text into smaller pieces reducing them to disconnected parts of a whole. These parts are then transformed into the building blocks of his visual vocabulary that he reconfigures to tell his own story. This process of deconstruction and reconstruction is the foundation of his work, an experiment to find connections to his own experiences.
Khmer Lessons specifically looks at the dual and parallel narratives of the artist’s life—one that originates in Cambodia, his birth country and the other that started in the US when he arrived there as a refugee at the age of 11. Through language and the rediscovery of his mother-tongue, Chath considers how to connect to the past, and how these dual narratives can co-exist.
The installation of Khmer Lessons, the centerpiece of the exhibition, features ceremonial flags inscribed with various words, phrases and dates in Khmer script, summoning individual memories to the present. On the floor below the flags are a series of “stupas” or “totems” built of stacked blocks, a tribute to death and memory. Scattered on the floor are various texts and poems by the artist that illuminate his own exploration of the language and his memories – a “translation” of his life and experiences; an attempt to be understood by and to understand the culture that so violently expelled him.
Throughout the exhibition Chath explores memory and illusion, many of the works being derived from his own journals looking at family, love, disappointment and even hate. This process of excavating memories and juxtaposing them with historical moments blurs the boundaries between “recorded” and personal history, at times self-deluding and at others a moment of empowerment. The cyclical nature of history, that is perpetually written and erased, is often in the hands of power—and here the artist re-claims a small part.
Chath pierSath was born in Banteay Meanchey province, Cambodia, in 1970 and came to the United States as a refugee in 1981. He received a Bachelor degree in 1993 from New College of California in International Service and Development and after a MA in Community Social Psychology. “Chath pierSath is an artist, poet, and activist, whose work is motivated by his quest for a meaningful purpose in life. After discovering that making art helped him to channel his emotions brought about by a childhood defined by the Khmer Rouge, this self-taught artist has used his paintings, collages and poems to reconnect fractured memories from his past.” (Natalie Pace, independent curator, 2011)
Chath’s work has been shown in the US, Singapore and Cambodia and is in several private collections. Currently his work is on display at Alijira: A Center for Contemporary Art in Newark, NJ (USA) and later this year will be part of an exhibition at The East Gallery in Toronto (CANADA) in response to the Royal Ontario
Showing 22 February – 1 April, 2012
JavaArts (Java Café & Gallery) 56 Sihanouk Blvd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Open daily 7am – 10pm