‘Decomposition’ Unearths the Cycle of Life, Decay and Rebirth

The title of Yim Maline’s latest series of artworks may be misleading, as the word “decomposition” doesn’t usually evoke beauty.

But the pieces in her exhibition, opening tonight at Phnom Penh gallery Sa Sa Bassac, are stunning. They are also full of intrigue, with each large cardboard square or rectangle several centimeters thick with craters that reveal layers of colors underneath.

Detail from Yim Maline’s series “Decomposition.” (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Detail from Yim Maline’s series “Decomposition.” (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“These are nature’s layers,” Ms. Maline said on Wednesday. “You see layers of stone, wood, soil. And there is color: yellow, red, cream or green.”

She is displaying the works on the floor for people to meander among them. “When one walks into this exhibition, my idea is to give people the impression that they are digging into the soil, searching,” Ms. Maline said.

“I can’t tell the whole world to preserve nature. So I create green spaces” hoping to inspire others to do the same, she said.

The 34-year-old used recycled cardboard, a material that many simply discard. But it is something that can be recovered and used in many ways, she said, including as sleeping mats, makeshift shelters and other resourceful improvisations by many poor people.

As she built each work with layer upon layer of cardboard, she used everything from ashes and acrylic paint to black ink, graphite and enamel spray.

Works from artist Yim Maline’s series “Decomposition.” (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Works from artist Yim Maline’s series “Decomposition.” (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Ms. Maline grew up in a poor family in Battambang province, where she attended Phare Ponleu Selpak arts school in Battambang City. Her studies there led her to France in 2003, from where she returned in 2010 with a French university degree in fine arts. Now based in Siem Reap City, Ms. Maline has had her work exhibited in several countries.

The title of the exhibition, “Decomposition,” is about understanding the cycle of life, decay and rebirth, and also about protecting the planet, Ms. Maline said.

“Otherwise, it will fall apart.”

The exhibition at Sa Sa Bassac opens at 6 p.m., following a talk by Ms. Maline in English and Khmer at 5 p.m. The show runs through January 7.

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