Sofitel Hosts Major Exhibition

Around 100 artworks ranging from paintings and installations to pottery and jewelry have taken over the lobby, corridors and main restaurant of the Sofitel hotel in Phnom Penh.

The works, which include fashion and design objects, reflect the diverse backgrounds of the 30 or so artists, most of them Cambodians, said Madeleine de Langalerie, who has curated the exhibition.

“There are some Cambodian artists who returned to the country [after leaving prior to the Khmer Rouge era] and others who were here, youngsters during that period, who afterwards went on with their lives but still carry that background, the memory of that era,” Ms. de Langalerie said.

“This does not necessarily turn into sad depictions in their work, but it always stays with them,” she said.
The darkness of that period still lingers in the work of French-Cambodian artist Sera, who fled the country as a child in 1975 and has since illustrated several books on Cambodia during the 1970s period. Sera’s paintings of centuries-old Khmer structures in the exhibition are shrouded in gray.

Nou Sary, who lived through the Khmer Rouge era as a child, keeps returning to the subject of food in his works, no doubt haunted by memories of people starving during the Pol Pot regime, Ms. de Langalerie said. But, unlike Sera, Mr. Sary does this without somber tones.

For the exhibition, he created a life-size sculpture of a small buffalo he entitled “Nourish me,” a golden and friendly figure, which is set up in the hotel’s lobby and makes one want to pat its head.

The buffalo is made of the straw left after harvesting rice grains, Mr. Sary explained: “Farmers keep the straw to feed domestic animals.”

Mr. Sary’s other works are exhibited in the hotel’s La Coupole restaurant, and include two large peaceful scenes of country life painted in oil on krama scarves, which gives the works relief but was not easy to execute, Mr. Nou said.

Lim Theam, who was a young child during the Pol Pot regime, goes from darkness to light in his work. For this exhibition, he painted three close-up portraits of Jayavarman VII, bringing humanity to the legendary Angkorian king by showing him as a pensive man.

But, he also created an installation of small, sculpted characters, nondescript figures lacquered either red, white or black who are looking down, as if weighted by a heavy burden past or present.

For artists born in the 1980s and still of primary-school age when the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement marked the official end of civil war in the country, Ms. de Langalerie said their vision of the country, whether rich or poor, reflects a brighter reality.

Khun Sotha, who was born in 1987, has produced works vibrant with hope, energy and bright colors. His painting “Holiday,” for instance, features a man with two women in long summer hats and dresses with paper creating relief.
Thang Sothea, born in 1983, focused on family.

Beside a steel-and-iron installation on the theme of family displayed in the Sofitel’s lobby, Mr. Sothea created a striking abstract sculpture of a couple entitled “Joint,” and an abstract painting, which is virtually a giant fingerprint, named “Green Destiny.”

Among other works, the exhibition includes Matthew Cuenca’s painting “You Complete Me,” in which portions of the faces of a man and a woman are fragmented like a jigsaw puzzle; Phe Sophon’s sepia-toned acrylic paintings, and a giant painting of an elderly Cambodian woman by French-Canadian Cambodian artist Fonki. Entitled “Ici,” or “Here,” the image depicts a pensive woman wearing a blue patterned krama, her face ravaged by time.

The exhibition also includes objects as well as sculptures: Heng Hun Sovann’s pale green ceramic bowl and brown vase are exquisite in design and quality, and Sreang Pisey’s wood sculpture “Khmer Lady and Rice” has a timeless beauty.

Throughout the hotel lobby are pieces of Ouk Socheaty’s contemporary pottery, and lamps made by Chim Vibol, which, when lit, reveal scenes cut out of copper sheets. The lobby’s center display features Ke Vicheth’s brass lamps and objects of Khmer traditional design.

In the lobby boutique, a red-and-black embroidered long dress and shoes by fashion designer Sok Chandara are on display, as well as jewelry and a short, strapless, red-and-black dress made of natural seeds by Som Rany, silver bags by Can’Art made of folded aluminum-can pull-tabs; and Citadel’s collectible pocket knives with chiseled fine handles.

Virtually every area of the hotel’s ground floor has artworks on display. Sofitel general manager Charles-Henri Chevet said the exhibition “fits perfectly within Sofitel’s strategy throughout the world” to integrate local art and cultural events into the fabric of the hotel.

Residents and visitors to Phnom Penh, especially Cambodians, are welcome to tour the exhibition, which runs through to June 1, Mr. Chevet said.

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