A celebrity-inspired god took a temporary place among the traditional bronze and stonework at the National Museum in Phnom Penh yesterday.
Brangelina-the fusion of acting husband and wife team Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie-is depicted in leading Cambodian artist Leang Seckon’s latest work, which is part of a five-day exhibition at the museum.
Fifteen Phnom Penh-based international and Cambodian contemporary artists each contributed a painting, statue or photograph to the first such multimedia exhibit in the traditional space, curator Jana Heilmaier, Initiator of the See Gallery Berlin said yesterday.
“It is the first of its kind,” Ms Heilmaier said, adding that the country’s leading lights of the Cambodian artistic scene were showcased. The works are due to tour Europe next year, Ms Heilmaier said.
In “The God of the Ricefield,” which Mr Seckon created last week, the celebrity Hollywood couple is joined together with water running through Ms Jolie’s middle to her many breasted chest. The reclining figures – which echoes of the eco-alien characters in the recent Hollywood smash film “Avatar,” have many hands holding modern gadgets. Ms Jolie’s six breasts feed randomly placed children-representing her six adopted children-in Mr Seckon’s colorful multimedia work.
“Like a big hole in the sky, this Cardamonmesque body brings rain that passes through the holy tummy button of Angelina Jolie to support the rice fields of the saddle of the country,” Mr Seckon writes in a statement accompanying his creation.
Mr Seckon, whose fame has recently rocketed internationally, sees no irony in using the American celebrity couple to embody what he refers to as the “everlasting mother Mekong.”
“I really love Angelina…. I watched her movies and her face like connected to my heart,” Mr Seckon said in an interview, noting that the actress’ lips are like the Bayon.
Beyond the fact Ms Jolie is beautiful, Mr Seckon said, she has adopted children across the world, including her Cambodian son Maddox, who is featured drinking a glass of his mother’s breast-milk in the work, and is involved in initiatives to protect forests in Cambodia.
Fleur Smith, who co-founded the environmental advocacy group the Rubbish Project with Mr Seckon, said that she didn’t focus on the celebrity aspect of the film stars in the piece.
“It is not ironic or critical, but looks at development, modernization of Cambodia,” Ms Fleur said, noting that the environment needs to be protected in this new era.
Another exhibitor Australian Ali Sanderson said that the Brangelina work had traditional elements and motifs but the celebrities were a cross-over to popular Western culture. “Angelina crosses traditional boundaries,” Ms Sanderson said, noting that tourists visiting Angkor Wat look for where Ms Jolie filmed Tomb Raider.
“I love it…. I think it is hilarious,” Ms Sanderson said, noting the Kentucky Fried Chicken motif in one of Brangelina’s hands refers to the first franchise of the fast food chain here.
In her own work on exhibition at the museum, Ms Sanderson incorporates popular Cambodian icons in the more serious toned blue ceramic heads of pop-stars Pov Panhapich, Touch Srey Nich, who were seriously wounded in unexplained attacks, and the late Piseth Pelika, who was shot and killed in 1999, to mourn these unresolved crimes.
“It’s striking,” Australian Ambassador Margaret Adamson said of Brangelina, looking at the picture from across the exhibition at the packed opening last night where Women’s Affairs Minister Ing Kantha Phavi gave an address.
Suon Bun Rith, country director of Amrita Performing Arts, said the Hollywood gods evoked the wealth of celebrities in contrast to the poverty of Cambodian artists.
“They live like gods, but Cambodian artists are really struggling,” Mr Rith said.
The works of Cambodia’s other top artists were also on show with Lim Sokchanlina’s striking self-portrait photograph, half in make up and half without. Traditional busts were also reinvented in blue plastic by Em Riem, cellophane by Ponita Keo and with television parts by Mr Seckon.