Artist Explores ‘Rotten’ Core of Cambodia Through Sculpture

Artist Yim Maline’s latest series of sculptures are things of beauty, the charcoal-black of their irregular shapes brightened by the vivid green of the foliage adorning them.

However this beauty is but appearances, Ms. Maline said, disguising the fact that charcoal is dead wood: Pretty green leaves may embellish, but cannot breathe life into it. 

Sculptures of charcoal and plant by artist Yim Maline. (Prum Ero)
Sculptures of charcoal and plant by artist Yim Maline. (Prum Ero)

“It’s lifeless, dead…like the country,” she said Friday.

These sculptures exhibited at the Sa Sa Bassac gallery are reflective of Cambodia, which gives the appearance of thriving while the situation for ordinary people is worsening, she said.

Ms. Maline has named her series “Having a hole or empty space inside.”

“There are holes inside my sculptures as if they had outer shells but inside were empty,” she explained. This is like Cambodia with its beautiful outer layer. “And inside, it’s rotten,” she noted.

Born in 1982 in Battambang City, Ms. Maline remembers dreaming of toys as a child, her parents far too poor to provide her with anything but the essentials.

In 1995, she became part of the first group of students to attend the arts school of Phare Ponleu Selpak near Battambang City. This en­abled her to go to France in 2003 and return with a university degree in fine arts in 2010.

She has been living in Siem Reap City ever since.

The country that Ms. Maline rediscovered after her years of absence depressed her. “The situation is getting worse,” she said.

She was appalled that large swaths of forests had disappeared due to logging and development projects, and that scores of people had lost their ability to support themselves on their land. Child­ren from impoverished families, who don’t have money to pay teachers, risk failure at school and difficult futures as a result, Ms. Maline said.

In the meantime, Cambodia re­mains reliant on imports from Vietnam and Thailand instead of manufacturing products here and expanding the economy, she added.

These observations led her to express in sculptures how she viewed the country: beautiful on the outside but dying inside.

Each piece took about five days to create. Ms. Maline gave them a sturdy core, starting each work by creating an aluminum armature. She then covered the frame with pieces of charcoal and charcoal paste, making room for a ceramic pot for the plants. The series also includes crayon drawings.

Ms. Maline’s exhibition at Sa Sa Bassac, located upstairs at 18 Sothearos Boulevard, runs through June 6.

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