Sokuntevy Oeur’s new exhibition blurs the lines between beautiful and grotesque
For some artists, the right to pursue their creative passion is a right worth fighting for. Among them is Sokuntevy Oeur, who, as a young girl, first developed an interest in drawing while the Phare Ponleu Selpak arts school was being built behind her parents’ Battambang home. On finishing high school, Tevy immediately enrolled, but was forced by her mother and father a few years later to abandon her studies.
The moratorium was only briefly effective: whenever her family left the house, Tevy sneaked straight back into class.
In 2007, Dana Langlois, director of Java Arts Cafe, travelled to Battambang and, impressed by Tevy’s artistic promise, offered her an exhibition. She showed sculptures made from rattan, bamboo, handmade paper and even coffee, but says she never really felt like a natural sculptor. “When I came here, I didn’t really know what I wanted,” says Tevy, now 29. “Later, I thought this isn’t a good idea. Painting works for me. I’m still trying to figure out my style; what I really like. I’m still searching. Your study doesn’t end until you die.”
Tevy’s ongoing search for definition as an artist is evident in the diversity of projects she undertakes. In a series of morbidly fascinating paintings from last year, the skin of her subjects has been peeled back from their faces; sinews of flesh, muscle and organs unsettlingly exposed. Here is the disconnected human form – the beautiful grotesque – made up of different pieces, simultaneously belonging to one body and yet separate from one another. that was 2011.
Today, the paintings in Tevy’s BKK1 studio are, conversely, masked. Her ‘beautiful grotesques’ have evolved. Instead of disintegrating, they are now fused with new bodies; they have gained and grown new appendages. Elephants’ trunks take the place of human noses; pigs’ ears sit above human ears; fingers merge to form cloven hooves.
There is more than a hint of the surreal in her work: dog-like animals in one painting are strongly suggestive of Francis Bacon’s fantastical creatures in the Three Studies triptych. But it’s a connection Tevy is keen to downplay. “I saw Bacon and Dali. I can understand why people think my paintings are like theirs, but I just draw what I draw.” That’s not to say her work is divorced from reality. “I have to have the real. I go downstairs and I look around. I take photographs.” She then grafts additional images on top to create a disjointed, other- worldly effect. The final piece is a coming together of different ways of seeing the world.
Her subjects have also changed. Heralded by some as a feminist, she has since abandoned women and today is focusing only on boys. Tevy’s current study is of “someone in my mind” – her brother and, by extension, Tevy herself. She has followed him from boyhood to young adulthood; to a stage of discontentment and a feeling of entrapment. How will it end? She has no idea. “I don’t know the end of my life; or maybe not the end, but maybe something I have to figure out. It’s happening right now. It’s happening to me, to my brother.” She points to an unfinished painting of a group playing pool – something her sibling regularly gets into trouble for doing too much of. Perhaps like him, Tevy finds her inspiration in the present moment: the here and now.
WHO: Sokuntevy Oeur
WHAT: Beautiful Grotesque exhibition
WHEN: May 16
WHERE: Java Arts Café & Gallery, #56 Sihanouk Blvd
WHY: Celebrating the macabre on canvas
This article was 1st published in The Advisor - All back issues are available as downloads here
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