At X-Em Gallery, on Phnom Penh’s Street 178, American socialite Paris Hilton and street kids share space and a title, “Very Important Person.”
They are among the many people who artist and gallery owner Em Riem considers of note and are included in his new show, “VIP.”
“I think everybody is a VIP, not only people who have a lot of money and a big car,” Mr Riem said.
His inspiration for the exhibit came from everyday life in Phnom Penh. He said that, in general, Cambodians believe a VIP is someone who has a lot of money, a big car and other showy symbols of wealth, which contrasts with the European definition of the term. Mr Riem, who spent seven years studying art and design in France, said in Europe, VIPs don’t have to be wealthy and that the title can be conferred on a wider range of people including intellectuals and politicians.
“VIP” primarily consists of large, bold paintings with colors that range from neon-bright intensity hues to somber and muted tones to represent the variety of people and their situations. There are also sculptures and an instillation made of five palm leaves.
In addition to making sure everyone gets the VIP treatment, Mr Riem said he wanted to show that there is more to art in Cambodia than images of temples and apsara dancers.
“I wanted to show other Cambodian artists that we can create new styles and there is room for it. Art is very open,” Mr Riem said.
Although the paintings in VIP are more contemporary than the traditional Cambodian images, Mr Riem said it’s not all cutting-edge style. Taking a lot of inspiration from Outsider Art, a style of art usually made by people who are not artists and did not set out to create art. The style’s origins began in the 1920s with therapist Hans Prizhorn, who collected art created by the mentally ill. His work then inspired artist Jean Dubuffet, who developed the definition of style.
“When people see the [VIP} paintings they say ‘Oh, this is great new art,’ but it’s not really new art, [the style] was developed 80 years ago,” Mr Riem said. “This is a traditional art.”