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 11:52 AM
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.
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

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease 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.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Paquito D'Rivera, who has won 12 Grammys, is celebrated both for his artistry in Latin jazz and his achievements as a classical composer. D'Rivera's latest project, “Jazz Meets the Classics,” was released this month. He joins us on the latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."