Cambodia's challenges, beauty on display

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University Art Museum’s Southeast Asian exhibition suite, “Current Views and Actions: Photography and Performance Documentation from Phnom Penh,” showcases contemporary work from young Cambodian artists Khvay Samnang and Lim Sokchanlina. This exhibition will be held in the museum’s Rotunda Gallery through Nov. 17.

Khvay and Lim are two of the founding members of the artist collective Stiev Selapak (Art Rebels) and are represented by SA SA BASSAC Gallery in Phnom Penh. Their photography and performance documentation poignantly showcase the societal challenges and unconventional beauty of contemporary Cambodia.

Khvay’s “Human Nature” series provides an intimate window into the lives and dwellings of tenants of the Bassac Riverfront Municipal Apartments, or “The White Building” in Phnom Penh. In Khvay’s startling portraits, his subjects’ faces are obscured by masks, allowing the nature of the portraits to unfold through the contents of the subjects’ living spaces.

In his untitled performance series, Khvay documented the repetitive action of pouring sand over his head in various natural and urbanized landscapes, addressing the growing urban developments encroaching around Cambodia’s lake systems and highlighting the devastating changes to the natural and cultural landscape in some of Cambodia’s poorest communities.

Lim’s “Wrapped Future” series depicts the rapidly advancing urban development of Phnom Penh. Many of the construction projects behind the barriers Lim photographs have laid waste to some of the city’s most revered architectural icons; others have displaced countless city residents. While Lim’s images are mysterious and starkly beautiful, his walls elicit feelings of loss and frustration.

In Lim’s performance art piece, “The Rock,” the “White Building” makes another appearance in a metaphorical depiction of social struggle. In his piece, Lim is straining to hold a heavy slab of concrete above his head as he tries to avoid collapsing and plummeting down a pipe leading into the building. This performance addresses the precarious position of the community as people attempt to shoulder the heavy burdens of rapid urban development, widespread eviction and poverty. It conveys Lim’s lament: “I think my city is growing up faster than my people.”   

“Current Views and Actions: Photography and Performance Documentation from Phnom Penh” was offered in conjunction with the Cambodia Studies Conference earlier this month at NIU. More information can be found at http://www.cseas.niu.edu/cseas/conferences.

The art museum is located on the first floor, west end of Altgeld Hall in DeKalb. Hours are
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.