News / Arts & Entertainment

Cambodia's Trauma, Rebirth Reflected in Khmer Sculptor's Work

Cambodia's Trauma, Rebirth Reflected in Khmer Sculptor's Work at Meti
X
April 26, 2013
In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge murdered some two million Cambodians and sacked the country’s cultural treasure, attempting to exterminate all art, knowledge and religion. The struggle by Cambodians to recover from that terror is embodied in the revival of the arts in that nation. Sculptor Sopheap Pich is one among many Cambodian artists whose work has flowered in recent years. Carolyn Weaver report.
TEXT SIZE - +
Carolyn Weaver
— In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge murdered some two million Cambodians and sacked the country’s cultural treasure, attempting to exterminate all art, knowledge and religion.

The struggle by Cambodians to recover from that terror, and to recover some of what was lost, is embodied in the revival of the arts in that nation. Sculptor Sopheap Pich, whose work is currently on view in a solo show at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, is one among many Cambodian artists whose work has flowered in recent years.

Pich was 13 when he arrived in the United States, a refugee. Not quite three decades later, his show at the Met is a highlight of a city-wide Season of Cambodia festival, which also includes music, painting, film, dance, puppetry and other arts. After finishing his education in the U.S., Pich returned to Cambodia in 2002 to make his way as an artist. 

In his studio near Phnom Penh, he began creating sculptures out of humble, local materials: the bamboo and rattan that grows all around, and that is usually used in furniture and crafts - not fine art. He was drawn to it by its simplicity and plainness.

“What it gave me was freedom,” Pich said in an interview at his Met show. “I didn’t have to worry about color. I didn’t have to worry about art history. I didn’t have to worry about sculpture, even, because it’s just a whole new territory.”

He works with assistants who cut and cure the bamboo and rattan, shave it into ribbons and help weave and tie it in place. Some pieces are embellished with bits of burlap from used rice bags and colored with paint made from clay, beeswax, tree resin and charcoal. There are dark, abacus-like grids, abstractions of equally dark history.

Many of the works are simultaneously massive and light, organically sensuous and ethereal. One of the most striking is a huge, bell-like flower in rattan, “Morning Glory,” whose sinuous tendrils extend nine meters.

Pich says it is an “almost reverential” imagining of the weedy plant that was a staple for hungry Cambodians during Khmer Rouge rule. “I often wonder why we still eat it,” he said. “Because - it reminds us, I suppose not so much of sadness anymore, but certainly when you think of morning glory, you never forget that time."

Pich has made several Buddha figures, semi-transparent and ghostly in their open-work weave. You can see through one placed in a field, to the landscape of Cambodia. Another hangs at the Met, its head and shoulders complete, but the strands of rattan unraveling below. The ends are dipped in red. This Buddha was inspired by a ruined temple near where Pich’s family lived for a time after the Khmer Rouge regime fell.

“I would visit the temple, but it was very dark, and obviously the temple grounds all broken and the sculpture broken,” he said. Inside the main hall, “I found a lot of broken Buddha sculpture, also bloodstains on walls and floors, like sprinkled with blood. And that memory never left me, and no one ever gave me an answer, I guess because I was too young to know.”

Pich’s sculptures are also part of a dance-drama by choreographer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro that was performed in New York as part of the Season of Cambodia festival. “A Bend in the River” is based on a Cambodian folk tale about a girl whose family is eaten by a crocodile, who becomes a revenge-seeking crocodile herself. In the dance, Pich’s rattan “crocodiles” come together and are torn apart - like the girl herself, and like the story of Cambodia in the time of the killing fields.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

With over five million records sold worldwide, singer-songwriter MIKA is best known for his hit single “Grace Kelly.” MIKA joins "Border Crossings" to perform live and to talk with host Larry London about his latest CD “The Origin Of Love.”