Human Hair as Art in New Java Exhibition

Artist Khvay Samnang found the inspiration for his latest exhibit “Hair” from an unusual place: seeing his mother and sister shave their underarms when he was younger.

The exhibit at Java Café and Gallery on Sihanouk Boulevard, which opened on Friday, is composed of one installation and nine sculptures made out of human hair that the artist said he collected from roadside barbers, his friends, his family and even himself. In total he used around 5 kilograms of human hair for the project that looks at the things women do to look attractive.

“I saw women trying to make themselves more colorful like animals and vegetables, which are the only things in nature that are colorful,” Mr Samnang said of women dying their hair and applying makeup. “It seems they do not like their natural bodies,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

Mr Samnang chose to work with hair because he saw how people, especially women, cherish it when it is on their heads but as soon as it is cut or removed, it is seen as useless and dirty. Also, the ritual of removing hair from the body to make it appear more attractive fascinated him.

“It was hard for me to create this idea,” Mr Samnang said, adding that the actual execution of his pieces was time consuming to conceptualize and create.

The largest of the creations on display at Java is a 2-meter tall hair-covered sculpture of a women removing hair from her underarm, an ode to the exhibition’s inspiration.

“I just want to emphasize human nature, it is not meant to look on women’s actions,” Mr Samnang said.

Ali Sanderson, assistant curator at Java, said the gallery has been working with Mr Samnang and watching his work’s progress since he graduated from the Royal University of Fine Arts in 2006.

“He has a great mind for conceptual ideas,” she said, adding that more Cambodian artists are starting to think about complex ideas and messages and present them in more intricate works. “They are becoming more accepting of non-traditional ways to present their ideas and growing more confident in their ideas,” she added.


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