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In Transition at Reyum

By: Ali Sanderson Posted: April-28-2008 in
Ali Sanderson

After almost a year of waiting and wondering, Reyum Gallery has at last opened its doors to the public again. And with this new exhibition titled "In Transition", Reyum's well earned reputation has been vindicated.

I must admit I had been sniffing around trying to get a glimpse of what might be in store at Reyum Gallery and through my "connections" I had the privilege of a sneak peek behind the scenes and what I found was ...... THE CREATIVE LAB! (Nyah ha ha, think nutty professor).

The Creative lab a year long creative workshop has been the foundation for this new, particularly fresh exhibition, In Transition, consisting of 15 young artists and curated by Ly Daravuth.

The artists, the majority of which are from impoverished backgrounds, each completed their 4 year art studies at the Reyum institute in 2006. Confronting life after study, Reyum decided to continue their support. And so, they conceived of the lab as an opportunity to further nurture these artists' practices, in a more post-graduate style environment, with support and inspiration from international visiting artists and curators, through workshops, residencies and intense studio time.

Not unlike many group shows, In Transition sees installations, videos, paintings and sculptures fill the gallery.

Yet to its immense credit, these works have an aesthetic, sophistication and significance rarely evident in some recently curated shows around Phnom Penh – and some of the artists in this show are as young as 15.

Such is the work by Sam Sovathara, 18. Like many of the artists in this show, Sovathara has suffered many adversities in his life. His work, an investigation of the past flags of Cambodia, consists of colorful handmade flags and a video exploring different people's knowledge of them and what they represent. There is sensitivity and an historical stature in this work that strikes a chord on many levels.

Another piece, Peou Sam-An's enlarged photograph of a drop of cooking oil on the ground most probably from the artists' own kitchen. The sheer size and ambiguity of this work captures the imagination and the artist feeds this by titling the work "Rahu Chap Chan" referring to a traditional myth about the animal God Rahu, who catches the moon. This is a perfect merging of Cambodian myth and of life's realities.

Art works by Kun Sotha, Khin Sokhim, Chan Dany, Phe Sophon and Sorn Setphaep were also outstanding.

In general Cambodian Contemporary Art is still a work in progress. Yet quickly artists have come a long way from ironically mis-naming it 'temporary art'. A poignant linguistic mistake yet nevertheless a telling misrepresentation.

In the past year Cambodian artists' knowledge of and exposure to Contemporary Art has flourished thanks to projects like Reyums and that of The Mekong Arts and Culture Project, which recently exhibited a similarly successful show at Meta house Gallery, as well as engagements with visiting foreign artists and a trend in more open minded galleries.

The challenge for Cambodian art and artists is to work out how they can best represent themselves to an increasingly interested international audience and art market while keeping hold of their own culture and aesthetic.

That said, more and more platforms for experimentation are being developed. Young artists in Phnom Penh are testing themselves and their society, while institutions like Reyum continue to champion these young artists by teaching them both fine art techniques and at the same time introducing them to the process of critical thinking that characterizes all professional artists. All this while, in Reyum's case at least, also providing a well needed roof over their heads.

Many of the artists in the show In Transition have aspirations other than art. Clearly, being an artist anywhere in the world can be anything but a secure career move. Yet this exhibition has proven that these artists have the potential talent to go onto more exciting art adventures and let's hope at least some of them help form the new face of Contemporary Art in this exciting time for Cambodia's emerging contemporary art scene.

Reyum Gallery
#47, St 178, Phnom Penh


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