I left Cambodia in 1979, living in refugee camps before moving to the United States in 1984. After returning to Phnom Penh in November 2002, it became clear to me that I needed to find a theme, a symbol, that is significant to this country and that would allow me to progress as a painter. Vessels had appeared in my previous paintings, and somehow they seemed to embody more meaning in this new environment and needed to be explored further.
Ongoing excavations of vessels reveal their importance in Cambodian society throughout history. Over the years, they have been used for everything from transporting water and pickling fish to storing human remains. Each new function required the vessel builder to make practical and aesthetic choices in order to give this simple and humble shape a new meaning. In this way, the vessels inspired craftsmen to become artisans. Intrigued by this idea, I chose to explore this subject for the possibility of creating new meanings within my own work and within the context of contemporary Cambodian art.
The title “Excavating the Vessels” is named for a town in the Battambang province called Guz Krolaw, which literally translates to “Digging Vessels” and is, coincidentally, my birthplace.