Painted business cards, gecko skulls, collages using fake $100 notes and multi-colored close-ups of eyes were among artworks that went on show Thursday at four exhibitions at Phnom Penh’s Java Arts Cafe and French cultural center.
Cambodian-American self-taught artist Chath PierSath, 40, said during a recent interview that he used newspapers, magazines, postcards and even blocks of wood to piece together his latest works.
The collages, which range from wall-sized to miniature images on business cards, mainly depict painted faces and figures.
“This body of work deals with travel and kind of finding different elements from existing realities to create another reality,” Mr PierSath said, noting that he used magazines from Istanbul, postcards of famous Americans and fashion magazine clippings.
Mr PierSath said that the exhibition, titled “Stolen Narratives,” came out of an attempt to shape his own experiences, which include moving to the US as a refugee aged 11. “Its about my constant search for what has been erased from my life,” he said. “And to create a narrative of how my life should be.”
At the French cultural center, 25 students from art school Phare Ponleu Selpak also depicted figures in collage—using money, jewelry, beauty product adverts, copies of passports and bankcards—for an exhibition called “Nouveau Riches.”
Another exhibitor at the center, Thang Sothea, a 27-year-old self-taught artist born in Kompong Cham province, is displaying nearly 50 acrylic paintings—a majority of which show pairs of eyes.
Mr Sothea explained yesterday that he wanted to make viewers entering the room feel as though they were being looked at by the artworks in his exhibition, called “Look at Me.”
“When you look at it and it looks at you, [the paintings] become like a reflection,” he said. “I would like people to see my technique, which I found out by myself,” Mr Sothea said, noting that while creating the pieces, the bright paint ran and cracked in unexpected ways. “It’s just by chance,” he said. “It surprises me.”
Mr Sothea said the eyes were based on photographs of himself, friends and people on the street as well as a monk from the newspaper and even inmates of former Khmer Rouge detention center S-21. “I wanted to find photographs of eyes that were very catching,” he said of the faces from Tuol Sleng.
American artist William Graef sculpted large gecko skulls from cast paper and resin to look out from the walls of Java Arts Cafe. During a recent interview, Mr Graef said he chose the gecko, an iconic Southeast Asian lizard, after creating a series on skeletons in New York.
Even though Cambodia is changing rapidly—with more traffic on the roads and buildings going up—the gecko remains a constant, albeit camouflaged presence, he said. “The gecko does not change. It is always here observing.”
Java Arts Cafe’s exhibitions run until Jan 30, and those at the French cultural center run until Jan 29.
Mr PierSath’s pieces cost $100 to $500; the students’ artworks cost $180 to $240; Mr Sothea’s paintings cost $50 to $650 and Mr Graef’s sculptures cost $500 to $900.