City’s Tangled Traffic Inspires Art Installation

Meas Sokhorn’s latest artwork was inspired by the frustration that anyone driving through Phnom Penh at rush hour knows well.

The 38-year-old artist painted his striking new installation green because, he said, of the disregard with which Phnom Penh motorists treat red traffic lights.

Artist Meas Sokhorn checks the final details of his installation on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Artist Meas Sokhorn checks the final details of his installation on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“When traffic police [are] not in sight, people will ignore red lights and drive as if the green light was on all the time. And if you respect the rules, you get caught in traffic jams,” he said in an interview this week.

Mr. Sokhorn’s work, entitled “Lane,” which will go on exhibit tonight at the Asia Foundation’s Community Art Gallery in Phnom Penh, is a brilliant tangle of objects that evokes the city’s crazy traffic.

The large artwork includes everything from motorcycle helmets, chains and mirrors to car steering wheels and headlights, with PVC plastic tubes serving as the installation’s backbone.

Beer cans are also employed, a reminder of the harm caused by drunk drivers. This is also emphasized by newspapers featuring stories on road accidents that are lined up along the floor and walls of the gallery like networks of roads.

“Lane,” which took Mr. Sokhorn three months to build, was also inspired by the anger that often chokes drivers. “People get aggressive,” he said.

Large cars will plow through lanes used by motorcycles and bicycles along sidewalks. “I get so frustrated and angry…. I honk: This is my lane, don’t treat me like a slumdog because I have an old motorcycle.”

Mr. Sokhorn, who studied interior design at the Royal University of Fine Arts and has exhibited both in Cambodia and abroad, has focused largely on installations reflecting contemporary social issues, such as the loss of traditional skills or the environmental cost of development.

Since opening a gallery at its office 18 months ago, the Asia Foundation has featured strong contemporary artwork as a way to prompt discussion in the community, gallery director Chheng Makara said Tuesday. “This installation will get people to think about the traffic situation…and what we can do to improve this,” he said.

The Asia Foundation’s projects in Cambodia have included working with Phnom Penh municipality and the company Cintri to improve garbage collection, with the goal of creating a better urban living environment. Mr. Sokhorn’s artwork is an indication that this goal may be attainable, said Silas Everett, the foundation’s country representative. “This exhibition suggests that, with all this growth and development, there’s a lot of creativity and opportunity…to make the city artistically, aesthetically, a pleasing place to live,” he said Tuesday.

The exhibition launches at 6 p.m. tonight and runs until August 18. The Asia Foundation gallery is located at 59 Street 242.

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