Sa Veasna said he understands the legacy of war—and how the insurmountable tragedies of violence and destruction can so easily be overlooked on a global scale once the guns have fallen silent.
The young artist from Phnom Penh, born in 1982, never experienced the Khmer Rouge regime’s violence firsthand. But even in its aftermath, the effects were still tangible: His maternal grandparents and an uncle were killed during the regime, and the society in which he grew up was struggling to regain stability.
Sa Veasna’s first solo art exhibit in Phnom Penh, a commentary on the widespread effects of violence, is intended to spread the message of peace, diplomacy and tolerance. His show, “WhAt is it good foR?” runs until the end of this month at Java Cafe & Gallery.
Sa Veasna’s paintings are detailed illustrations of newspaper stories, with the text and photographs all studiously recreated by hand. The stories depicted are written in French, English and Khmer and are taken from several international and local news publications, he said.
He thought the idea of newspapers painted on canvas was significant because of the volume of information they could provide about a country’s education system, economy, history and government.
Sa Veasna’s work is “a way of telling a story in a way that is relevant to modern society,” said Dana Langlois, owner and general manager of Java Cafe.
“It’s accessible,” she said of Sa Veasna’s work. “It’s not just a big politician [advocating a message]; it’s just a person who has a medium to communicate this topic very well.”
Sa Veasna said he hoped his exhibit would help promote discussion about violence. “I hope people [can learn to make] good decision[s] through my work to make their country [achieve] real peace,” he said by telephone from the US, where he and his wife reside.
As a supplement to the exhibit, and as a way to make the show interactive, Langlois cleared a wall in the gallery she titled, “Say your peace,” where visitors can write comments or post articles and photographs voicing their beliefs on the subject.
Kuch Phearun, an information technology designer for Friends-International, was one of the first guests to write on the wall.
“I think it would be great if young Cambodians could see it,” Kuch Phearun said, adding that he thought it would be beneficial to show Sa Veasna’s work in local universities.
Members of his generation “are the future leaders,” he said. “They would be able to see that there is nothing good for humanity” in war.