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WhAt is it good foR? Sa Veasna

By: Ali Sanderson Posted: May-21-2008 in
Ali Sanderson

Yes, he does share the same exhibition history as most of the recent graduates of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (a couple of exhibitions at RUFA, a couple at the French Cultural Centre and a couple at Sala Artspace and Metahouse), but that is not a bad thing seeing that it is terminal trajectory of the young artists of Cambodia.

Unless of course, as is possible in the rest of the world, you are one of the chosen art-stars of the time or you for some reason board an aeroplane and get out of Cambodia.

Whether it is for study, work, family or marriage, several Khmers every year emigrate out of Cambodia and they are generally considered to be the lucky ones. Sa Veasna was one of them in mid 2007.

It was a quick exit. One week he was at the HOW TO BE A CURATOR workshop at Metahouse and the next he was in the US.

Upon meeting him, I remember being interested in a small photograph he showed me; I presumed it was a London gallery postcard he'd picked up somewhere, a masterpiece from the Tate Collection. On the contrary, it was his very own "history painting", a kind of Angkor does Baroque masterpiece, brilliantly executed with folks building ancient Angkor Wat and lions in the clouds; indeed, very impressive.

Fortunately, the memory of his talent was not misplaced after his departure, and Java Cafe and Gallery are exhibiting his well earned first solo exhibition, sans artist, sent from America, titled "WhAt is it good foR?" ... WAR.

Born in 1982, Sa Veasna himself missed the horrendous communist debacle that nearly ended with Cambodia's auto-genocide, but even those born after suffer the wounds of the country's brutal history. In Sa Veasna's case, his uncle and grandparents were both victims. Sa Veasna also had to suffer the countries post genocidal deficit in all aspects of life, including the cultural sphere. How does one recover a fate of being left so far behind?

13 works adorn the gallery walls. They adorn it because, despite the theme and the fact that some titled Remnants of War 1-9, the pieces themselves are aesthetically pleasing. Minimal on first sighting with the canvases mostly painted white, burnt looking pieces of newspaper are painted in the centre of the smaller canvases and on closer inspection are filled with meticulous detail. The detail being, hand painted replicas of newspaper articles from around the globe but mostly in English, and as far as I remember, Sa Veasna has only minimal comprehension of the English language. The thought of his copying the papers word for word is absorbing to say the least, and the accompanying newspaper images have also been meticulously rendered in oil paint.

The imagery, given the title, is made up of war torn cities, survivors, victims, soldiers and more. The 4 large pieces are painted to the edges with this detail, pages upon pages of newspaper articles, information and imagery.

This exhibition proved to be a formidable platform to get the absent Sa Veasna's message across:

"Leaders should stop the war! I want all leaders to resort to other means to seek solutions through discussion, tolerance and understanding toward each other. Only then will the world be at peace."

"WhAt is it good FoR" by Sa Veasna until May 31st
Java Cafe and Gallery
56 E1 Sihanouk Blvd - Phnom Penh

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