In Chhim Sothy’s new exhibition titled “Vision” at the Tamarind restaurant on Phnom Penh’s Street 240, the artist shows a new collection of socially critical oil-on-canvas paintings that, for the most part, focus on the impact development has had on Cambodian society.
Mr. Sothy, who has exhibited internationally with paintings on traditional Khmer themes such as Apsara dancers, said that he is now adding a critical component to his work in an attempt to bring change to society through art.
“I wanted to show the nowadays Cambodia and its problems, the way the country has developed, especially regarding the environment,” Mr. Sothy said.
One of his works, a blue and greenish pastel-colored painting showing the blurry shape of a woman in a hilly, deforested environment, illustrates that development, no matter how necessary, certainly has its downsides in Cambodia.
“I have mixed feelings about development. Sometimes it’s good, but I’m concerned because it also affects the population—especially poor people in the countryside—in a bad way,” Mr. Sothy said.
“The people who benefit are usually rich businessmen. Development should benefit people equally.”
“Vision” is a departure for Mr. Sothy, who started his career with traditional themes treated contemporarily, and who then, for a short period, worked in a semi-abstract way.
“I’m happier with my more social [driven] paintings than with what I used to do before. I want people to question, ‘What’s the future we are building?’ I want them to see my work and start to raise questions. And I want them to see that we need development, but there has to be more equality—everyone should profit.”
One of the biggest problems in modern Cambodia is food insecurity, he said, and therefore he chose fish as one of the main topics in his paintings.
“Before, fish were easy to get, everyone could just catch fish…. Now, it is more difficult to fish. Some people, especially rural villagers, are now forbidden to fish because big companies got fishing licenses. This shows the bad side of development.”
Anne Hogland, who works for the Swedish Embassy and purchased one of Mr. Sothy’s paintings, said her daughter had told her about “Vision” and that she went to see the exhibition at Tamarind restaurant rather spontaneously.
“I’m not familiar with the artist, but the paintings are beautiful. I love the colors and emotions. It’s very Cambodian,” said Ms. Hogland, who paid $1,500 for her painting.
The “Vision” exhibition runs through January.