Sa Sa Art Gallery is honored to present the duet Farmers & Freshies, an exhibition of portraiture by two of Cambodia’s young emerging artists Nov Cheanick (1989) and Ouk Sochivy (1986).
In Cambodia, portraits are commonly commissioned by people seeking their representative likeness, or even an enhancement or perfection of their likeness. “Realism” is the expected and respected result, whether in the form of photography or painting. Nov Cheanick’s Farmers and Ouk Sochivy’s Freshies offer a dramatically different take on the purpose and potential diversity of portraiture. The artist’s similarities begin and end with their practice of painting uncommissioned, anonymous portraits as a means of personal expression. It is their differences however – both in artistic gesture and their choice of representative community – that stimulate a synergetic conversation beyond art and towards contemporary Cambodian society.
Nov grew up in rural Battambang province, where he lives today, and where he finds the subjects for his paintings: subsistent rice farmers, both men and women, young and old. Ouk is an urbanite. Born, raised, and living in Phnom Penh, her subjects depict a new identity in the Khmer culture: Freshies – the winners and followers of increasingly common beauty and talent contests for youth.
Nov differentiates himself from his subjects – his outlook of a bright future is connected to having finished high school and continuing his art education, while he connects the farmer’s struggle and poverty in part to their absence of formal education. It is not only a lack of education of course that sidelines farmers from their once respected position in Khmer society and culture. Although they remain one of Cambodia’s most valuable populations and resources today, they struggle from loose and changing law and land titles, land grabbing, rarity of irrigation systems or machinery or storage, and an expanding national economy that lures them to urban areas, to name but a few circumstances.
Like the farmer’s precarious, nature-dependent livelihoods, Nov’s process is also mercurial. He considers his black ink paintings on paper an emotional process -the reactive moment when the water and ink meet is a metaphor for our reaction to unpredictable circumstances in life. Removing his subjects from their original context and titling them by number only further extends this metaphor to the audience – as we “meet” these blurred and anonymous faces, we can only meet our own associations and emotions.
Although Ouk’s subjects are also unnamed, she identifies closely with the community she paints. The Freshie Boys and Girls contest was first sponsored by a telephone company a decade ago and has since contributed to a new breed of Cambodian youth modeled after the contest categories: beauty and fashion sense inspired by globalised trends from neighboring Asian metropolises like Hong Kong and Seoul, interpersonal skills, formal education, and performing or artistic skills.
Ouk’s process is not only that of a painter, but equally a stylist. She pairs elements from magazines, snapshots, and often her own details as she decides what backdrop, clothing and accessories, hair-style, make-up, and pose her characters will take. The resulting flat, colorful oil paintings on canvas recall both playful, child-like renderings of stylish grown-ups while they offer a window to the new role model of many Cambodian youth today.
Sa Sa Art Gallery #7, St 360, Phnom Penh • 097 7320 555 • www.sasaart.info
Born: 1989, Battambang
Lives and works: Battambang
Cambodia: The Memory Workshop
Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre
Born: 1984, Phnom Penh
Lives and works: Phnom Penh
To Be Continued
Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre
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