Common Cause

The two artists currently exhibiting at the French cultural center in Phnom Penh like to work alone and create simple forms, more sketches than actual figures.

But there stop the similarities: While Burmese artist Soe Naing’s paintings are vibrant with colors and radiate exuberance, Chath pierSath’s works are mainly studies in black and white of faces devoid of expression.

Mr pierSath, a Cambodian-American artist, has entitled his series “Soliloquy of a Deaf Mute,” which expresses the way he now feels living in Cambodia, he says.

“Basically the title implies what I’ve been told many times in Cambodia about being silent, to only worry about the hair on my head, not to say anything political,” he says.

The title also reflects the profound changes that Mr pierSath says he has noticed since he started spending long periods of time in the country a decade ago.

“I feel that the society is different: It’s not a village anymore,” says Mr pierSath who is a social psychologist as well as an artist. “People are more individualistic…. The relationships are always money based.”

Mainly done in ink on recycled wood, most pieces in the exhibition show stoic faces with guarded expressions. Some works consist of wooden blocks, each one featuring a face at the front and a blurred image of that face on the side.

“People’s history, people’s way of life is being erased,” Mr pierSath says. Between changes in Cambodian society they have yet to assume and globalization in which they are being immersed, he said, “their identity is being reduced and their history is being rendered insignificant every day.”

In one artwork, a man is sketched in a black outline wearing a blue surgical mask over his nose and mouth. He appears on a rugged, cream background with the head of a man looking sideways behind him. This piece signifies the distance people create between themselves and the fact that, while the mask is meant to protect from dust and pollution, it adds yet another barrier to individuals communicating, Mr pierSath said.

Born in Cambodia in the late 1960s, Mr pierSath immigrated to the US in 1981. He studied at the national fine arts school in Paris on a French scholarship in 2005 and 2006 and has exhibited several times in Cambodia. He now lives in Cambodia half the year and works on an orchard farm in the northeastern US the remainder of the year.

Soe Naing’s series is named “Nats and Vahanas,” and consists of the Burmese artist’s very personal interpretation of vahanas, the Hindu mythical animals who carry divinities, and the nats or Burmese Buddhist spirits.

Mr Soe Naing, who lives in Rangoon, says in his artist statement that he lets the images emanate from him rather than setting about producing a work. “When one forsakes the wish of wanting ‘to become,’ one can obtain peace. I start painting without knowing anything. If the painting knows that you care about it, it will oppress you. Act as if the painting is not important,” he writes.

His figures, childlike in their simplicity, seem to dance on the canvas, their movement and spirit free of constraint. In one work, a warrior-like character appears in deep red against a soft aqua backdrop, one arm raised and holding a weapon, his legs bent in motion. In another, a rider painted in white sits on a horse done in shades of blue grey and pale brown with touches of orange and fuchsia in its mane, rider and horse set on a deep blue background.

Born in 1961, Mr Soe Naing holds a degree in zoology from the University of Rangoon. He studied art but, he writes, could not complete the program.

A since most people call him an artist, he has come to see himself as such, he explains. “If words remain with us long enough, they will become true,” he says.

Mr Soe Naing has had his work exhibited in numerous countries including Japan, Singapore, China and the Netherlands. He was unable to come to Cambodia for the show.

The exhibition of Mr pierSath’s and Mr Soe Naing’s works run through February.


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