Pich Sopheap Has Boosted Contemporary Cambodian Art on His Life with Bamboo
Photoed by: Tyler Rollin Fine Arts
The place where artists around the world wish their achievements to be featured, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is considered as one of the top three important museums in the world due to the fact that around six million people visit there every year.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is going to greeting a contemporary
Cambodian artist Pich Sopheap ’s solo exhibition, Cambodian Rattan: The Sculptures of Sopheap Pich, which featured ten works of his sculpture, from February 23 through June 16, 2013.
A crew-cut man wearing glasses that rests on the nose and ears with black eye, Pich Sopheap, is widely considered to be Cambodia’s most internationally prominent contemporary artist who creates the sculpture primarily from strips of bamboo and rattan.
A large-scale yellow sculpture which is similar to modern building surrounded by many weapons at bottom, Compound is a sculptural form from bamboo, rattan, metal wire and wood.
Compound, a bamboo city sculpture of Sopheap, is currently on view at MASS MoCA, the U.S., in the group exhibition Invisible Cities. Sopheap Pich created this bamboo city to talk about the development in Cambodia by using war materials.
“For the sculpture, Compound, I want to show the weapons which have bombed in 1979 war. The bombs were fallen in the rice field,” Sopheap said. “They were sold to Thailand where they were made to be wire or building material and then they were sold to Cambodia. I mean that our city is established by war materials.”
Sopheap uses his sculpture to represent his voices and ideas that address issues of himself, his surrounding, his emotions, everything he learned and he know, particularly with regard to his childhood of life during the Khmer Rouge period.
Pich Spheap was born in Bttambang Province near Khmer-Thai border in 1971 when civil war was strongly bombing and Khmer Rouge era started killing around two million Cambodians four years after.
He was four year old when Khmer Rouge era took in power. He still could remember his life during Kherm Rouge era as clear as daylight although it’s hard to put everything in chronological order.
“One of the most beautiful memories was of the very first fish I caught with a fish hook that my father had taught me to make out of a simple wire,” Sopheap said in Cambodian Artists Speak Out book.
“That was in 1975 just before my grandmother and grandfather were separated from my family. The fish was a tiny silver catfish. My father was so proud,” he added.
When Khmer Rouge Regime ended in 1979, Sopheap and his family as the refugees left Cambodia to the U.S. where he has started a new life.
“I was difficult to assimilate to the new culture. My mother and father worked in factories,” Sopheap said. “I had a hard time understanding the teachers and hard time making friends. I experienced a lot of racism.”
Khmer Rouge Regime, the top third genocide in the world, was considered to be the darkness era in Cambodia history. Accordingly, Cambodia art at that time was suffered and damaged.
“This is an estimated number, 90 percent of artists either they were executed or they were exiled outside the country,” Dana Langlois, founder of JavaArts, said. “There have quite few artists [who could survive] were living in the country and who have left just before [Khmer Rouge Regime started] and couldn’t get back then.”
Sopheap returned to Cambodia in 2001 where he developed his unique sculptural form made out of bamboo and rattan.
Pich Sopheap uses the words “struggling, trying and surviving” to describe Cambodian people at that time; however, he never want to leave Cambodia.
“I was never happy in the United States. I couldn’t make art and I didn’t know what I was making art about. Cambodia gave me space and time to develop myself and my art,” he said.
Preparing wax by heating it in several pots on a table near a square-shaping sculpture that constructed from bamboo similar to wire which used to form foundation of building, Sopheap said that he used those materials –sack, soil, plastic, wax, wood, rattan and bamboo— to keep them alive and valuable.
“The unvalued thing such as the old sack along with patches is nearly to die. If people have used it only four or five times, they would have thrown it away,” he said.
“Hence, I pick up such a thing so that I can keep it alive and valuable. This new life will stay for thousand years,” he added.
Around 10 km from Phnom Penh capital city, Sopheap established his own studio where he helps the nine people working with him to improve their living.
Sopheap is quiet humorless, yet his heart is pure. Holding a broom in her hand and sitting on a step of the stairway, housekeeping Moul Saveth, 59, shows her cheerfulness in working for Pich Sopheap by smiling and laughing that is easily to see her white tooth during she was speaking.
Working for Pich Sopeap as the housekeeper for almost one year, she said, “He never speaks something for fun. I love his character.”
“He is a lovely good person; I speak from the corner of my heart. I always enjoy working for him unless I am seriously sick. It is my good deep for being his worker,” she added.
Working while music is playing loudly in his studio, Sopheap said that his art is just a small voice on society. “Arts cannot speak; therefore, people themselves speak for them. My art doesn’t have a big voice, but it has another things. So what? It depends on how educated people are,” Sopheap added.
Dana said, “Contemporary art based on ideas, concepts, and experiences but often based on individual artist, so one artist cannot speak for the whole country, cannot speak for culture, and cannot speak for one generation. But, it can contribute a very logical message [to the society].”
Pich Sopheap is a full-time artist, and he has got many big achievements in the name of Cambodian artist.
On his return to Cambodia in 2003 he and his partner, Linda Saphan, formed Visual Arts Open (VAO) to encourage local artists and organize an exhibition.
“The VAO was important though as it created an additional opportunity for artists to explore their own personal expression and ideas and have them presented alongside their peers,” Dana said.
“Pheap and Linda had several meetings with the artists and I believe that had a big impact on what they produced.”
Works by Pich Sopheap were in international museums and events such as in Singapore, Australia, China, Germany, Thailand, Norway, Taiwan, Japan, France, Myanmar, and especially in the U.S.
“The biggest one in 2012 is dOCUMENTA(13) in Germany. This year, I will feature my work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is said to be one of the most important and biggest museums in the world. dOCUMENTA(13) and the Metropolitan are the biggest exhibition in my life,” he said.
Besides, this year Sopheap will also present his third solo exhibition at Tyler Rollins Fine Art in New York, the U.S. that will feature works from his Wall Relief series, which he debuted at dOCUMENTA (13) in 2012.
Cambodian arts have been growing healthily and exponentially in this last decade. “Absolutely” and “Optimistically” are used to present how Cambodian art will develop in the future. “Just like everything else in Cambodia, it [Cambodian art] will be improved. I am optimistic,” Sopheap said.