Artists Focus on Intimacy, Fate of Couples in Exhibit in Capital

The exhibition opening tonight at Phnom Penh’s X-EM Design gall­ery features works that represent a departure from the two artists’ recent themes.

Ing Phousera, who signs his artworks Sera, has chosen couples’ intimacy as his subject matter, setting aside the tragic events of the 1970s that he has illustrated in three books.

And Em Riem, who played with decidedly contemporary images and design in his June show, is the one going back to that era, also focusing on couples but in the context of their fate.

Entitled “Fatum,” the Latin word for destiny, Mr Riem’s series consists of portraits of couples photographed in the 1960s or early 1970s around the time of their weddings. Most of them are in Western clothes, the women wearing the short bouffant hairstyles of the time.

As the dates painted in red on each portrait indicate, Mr Riem said, “They were born at different dates but all died the same year, in 1977.”

The giant acrylic images done in black on burlap produce a feeling of intimacy, as if one were about to meet those individuals who appear very much alive.

The portraits were done from photographs of actual people, photos of parents or grandparents that Mr Riem borrowed from friends and which would normally stand on their ancestors’ altars, he said. The 1.9-square-meter paintings have been placed in red frames since there usually is a touch of red on those altars, the 38-year-old artist added.

Mr Riem remembers walking with his family from Battambang to Phnom Penh in 1979, seeing the bodies of the dead along the way and the devastation around Phsar Thmei. His first works on the Khmer Rouge around 2002 were done out of the anger he felt at the destruction they had caused: “all barbwire, cardboard and raw materials,” he said.

What prompted him to do this more intimate series on couples is the fact that, so often, people may know when their relatives disappeared during the Pol Pot regime but have no idea what actually happened to them, he said.

Mr Sera’s series entitled “Etrein­tes,” or embraces, consists of semi-figurative images of people in each other’s arms. Sketched out of fluid lines in mute tones, they exude lightness and quiet joy.

Done on paper that was later glued on canvas, the works were first drawn, then highlighted in ink and completed with acrylic and at times oil paint, the 41-year-old, French-Cambodian artist explained.

The forms are inspired by statues at Angkor, but done as personal interpretations of the Khmer sculptures, without any attempt at copying them, he said.

Mr Sera started the series in 2007, exploring various monuments at Angkor. He took time from the project to complete “Lendemains de cendres,” or ashen tomorrows, the third book of his historical series focused on the last months of the Khmer Rouge regime in late 1978 and early 1979. The book was re­leased in late 2008.

The exhibition at X-EM Design gallery on Street 178 will run through early February.


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