Using Abstractions, Pair of Artists Shed Light on Unhealed Wounds

Artists Ing Phousera and Julianne Sibiski named their exhibition opening on Wednesday “Unfinished,” they said, because the scars caused by the Khmer Rouge regime have yet to heal.

“It’s a way for us to pay homage to those who are no longer here…commemorating this unalterable loss,” said Mr. Phousera, who goes by the name Sera. 

The French-Cambodian artist painted massive funeral urns against abstract Cambodian landscapes using a combination of acrylic, oil, pastels, ink and resin. The works are monumental but still retain the intimacy and humanity of a cremation ceremony.

Funeral rites were banned during the Pol Pot regime, which claimed the lives of more than 1.7 million people. Sera’s urns, he said, are “for all these people who were not honored in a proper way.”

American artist and poet Julianne Sibiski created an installation for the exhibition consisting of two fishing boats and a hare.

The stuffed animal is a reference to the year of the hare, which was already underway when the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. The boats illustrate the crossing from life to death of those who perished under the regime, she said.

“However, us who have inherited this history in various ways, we still are in the midst of this crossing, we still are in the middle of the river,” she said.

Ms. Sibiski’s abstract paintings in the exhibition were done using color pigments, Cambodian sea salt and cotton thread, a reference to the string that monks wrap around urns during funeral ceremonies.

Sera has published several graphic novels depicting Cambodia’s civil war of the early 1970s, the Khmer Rouge regime and the exodus of Cambodians toward the Thai border in the 1980s. He is now working on a monument to be erected in Phnom Penh in remembrance of those who died during those decades.

The exhibition—organized by the Documentation Center of Cambodia in cooperation with the Ministry of Education—opens Wednesday at 5 p.m. in Building H of the National Institute of Education on Sihanouk Boulevard.

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