Cross-Cultural Collage: Cambodia, Africa and the Monkey Man

One summer day in New Delhi in 2003, a man claim­ed to have been at­tacked by a monkey man. The public initially reacted with disbelief, but the next day there was a new attack and India started to speculate: Could it be a diedi, a monkey god?

For weeks, the monkey man struck regularly and, at the peak period, around 40 attacks a day were being reported across the city. It was front-page news in New Delhi, and the police put all their people on it. But after awhile, the attacks stopped and the monkey man was never found.

Marc Pollack, a US artist living in New Delhi at the time, followed the story closely and was so taken by it that he turned it into art. Entitled “Monkey Man,” his collage of newspaper articles and photos on the topic is currently part of his exhibition at Java Cafe in Phnom Penh, which runs through Oct 6.

The 53-year-old artist moved to Phnom Penh six months ago with his French wife—whom he fittingly met at an art exhibition in his hometown of New York. Before then, he had lived in the US as well as in Asia, and spent several years in Burundi and Mauritius.

His artworks reflect his travels. Most are filled with symbols, especially African, and reflect different cultures, as well as a touch of subtle humor.

“My method of working is an ac­cumulation of ideas,” Pollack said recently, seated amongst his paintings at the cafe. “I work with many things at a time, and when I can transform them into art, I do.”

Cambodia has already influenced Pollack, as several brightly colored paintings of hands and feet—each set in a classical Apsara dancer position against a one-color background-attest.

Another painting of a city scene shows a bustling street with brand-name signs atop electronics shops juxtaposed with a pagoda in the background and an Apsara dan­cer’s hand in one corner—all done in bright colors and clean lines. There also are paintings of African masks, also done in this kind of pop art style.

Educated at Parsons School of Design in New York, Pollack creates more than just paintings. At one point during the interview, he took out an African grigri, a square piece of plastic with drawings or patterns on both sides—a Portable Art Object, he called it.

“It is mainly for protection,” Pollack said. “If I do not like the way a conversation is going, for in­stance, I can flip it around and thus turn the conversation into something else. Like a sort of voodoo object,” he said, smiling.

In front of him at the table, he had placed several grigris. He hopes to exhibit them somewhere in Phnom Penh, preferably in a place where people can touch them and flip them over.

But Pollack is not a superstitious man. Neither is he a non-believer, he said.

“I do not believe in spirits in the sense of God. But to me, it is how people react toward the un­known,” he added.

“Maybe there really is a monkey man.”

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