In Cambodia, Contemporary Artists Shed Light on Social and Environmental Issues
Riding through downtown Phnom Penh in a tuk tuk on my way to Sa Sa Bassac—the leading contemporary art gallery in Cambodia—I saw about 100 people marching in the street, holding signs and chanting slogans while flanked by cops on every side. I asked my guide what it was all about. She told me they were protesting land grabs by developers, who employ arsonists to burn down shanty towns to make way for apartment towers, which often then sit vacant, serving as investments to hide dirty money.
Upon my arrival at Sa Sa Bassac I met with the artist Than Sok to learn about his drawings and art installations, which are strikingly contemporary yet firmly rooted within a traditional Cambodian cultural milieu. His recent works dwell on the dynamics of Buddhist monk-hood and gift-giving, but I was particularly moved by his first major installation, titled Negligence Leads to Loss; Attention Preserves. Staged at the Singapore Art Museum in 2009, it consisted of a projector ensconced within a traditional cambodian spirit house. The video depicted a small spirit house built entirely out of incense, which the artist sets aflame.
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