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Last night was the opening of Continuing Conversations, a group exhibition I curated at Meta House to celebrate its fifth anniversary of opening. At the request of the Meta House Director, the exhibition was curated from the gallery’s permanent collection, and features works by some of Cambodia’s best known artists (Svay Ken, Sopheap Pich, Leang Seckon) as well as important newer talents (Khvay Samnang, Kong Vollak, Veasna Tith), some international visitors (Le Thua Tien, Bradford Edwards) and more.

Lyno Vuth (Sa Sa Art Projects), Kate O’Hara (Romeet Gallery) and Dana Langlois (JavaArts) at the opening celebrations. Someone put some flowers on top of Le Thua Tien’s “Globe”.

The full text of the exhibition catalogue, including information about each of the eighteen works exhibited, is available as a PDF download here: Continuing Conversations–Meta House 5 Year Show–Catalogue Essay in English–27.03.2012. This is the English language version; a Khmer translation was also printed.

The introductory essay, which was printed as a wall text in the gallery, follows:

Five Years of Meta House: Continuing Conversations
Works from the Meta House Permanent Collection
Exhibition curated by Roger Nelson

In the five years since it was established, Meta House has presented dozens of performances and talks, hundreds of exhibitions, and thousands of films.  In the words of founding Director Nicolaus Mesterharm, ‘Meta House has not only established itself as a meeting place for artists and art lovers, but also as an intercultural and interdisciplinary networking platform for Cambodian-based artists, Cambodian artists living overseas and their international colleagues.’  Discussion, dialogue and exchange: these have been – and will remain – central to Meta House’s activities and vital to the growth and development of contemporary art in Cambodia. And thus they form the guiding principles for the structure of this exhibition.

Continuing Conversations serves as a partial introduction and as a pictorial celebration.  Gathering works by eighteen artists (ten of whom are Khmer), the exhibition emphasises the ways in which artworks can be seen to speak to and relate to each other, and emphasises the many overlaps and echoes between them.  The exhibited works are arranged in groupings to highlight connections, but these are merely a few of an infinite number of links. This exhibition by no means aspires to be a comprehensive survey of either the collected work of Meta House or of contemporary art in Cambodia; rather it is conceived as an open-ended contribution to a continuing conversation.  This is an exciting moment in the history of contemporary art in Cambodia.  Khmer artists are gaining more local, regional and international recognition than ever before.  Creative practitioners in all media are engaging with a rapidly expanding array of issues and ideas.

Soon after opening in 2007, Meta House presented the first of two exhibitions titled The Art of Survival, accompanied by books published in English and Khmer featuring profiles of contemporary artists.  These projects encouraged artists to engage with and reflect on the Cambodian genocide.  Several of the works exhibited here are drawn from these two projects, which proved to be important moments in the early careers of a number of younger practitioners.  Some works represented the violence of the Khmer Rouge through horrifying images of death and suffering, yet many others (such as Veasna Tith’s Blind Pins and Khvay Samnang’s Reminder) responded in more lyrical forms.  As this exhibition affirms, there is of course not one defining style in contemporary Cambodian art.

Amy Lee Sanford’s recent performance at Meta House, Full Circle, is testament that artists continue to address the lasting effects of genocide in compelling and important ways. But a growing number of works also engage with an array of other issues, and many artists are perhaps resistant of a perceived international expectation that Khmer art must always and only speak of the Khmer Rouge.  Leang Seckon, Sopheap Pich, Sokuntevy Oeur make intensely personal works which draw on private codified languages of systems and symbols to speak of the body, the family and the everyday, as did the late and much-revered Svay Ken.  Kong Vollak, Chhim Sothy, Srey Bandol and Sokuntak Piteak all in different ways address the changing and at times contested landscape of the city and the nation, a topic of increasing prominence in more recent work by Khvay Samnang (and others) as well.  Many visiting international artists have added their voices to these simultaneous and intersecting conversations, and glimpses of the multi-directional nature of the exchange can be seen in several works here.

Visitors to Meta House, in bringing their own approaches to exhibitions such as this, are essential to the continuing conversation that is contemporary art in Cambodia.  As we celebrate the last five years, we look forward to many exciting developments in the present and in the future.

Artists: 

Srey Bandol, Bradford Edwards, Ma Ei, William Graef, Stephane Janin, Svay Ken, Luth Mattstaedt, Sokuntevy Oeur, Tim Page, Sopheap Pich, Sokuntak Piteak, Marc Pollack, Khvay Samnang, Leang Seckon, Chhim Sothy, Le Thua Tien, Tith Veasna, Kong Vollak.

Installation view

Installation view

Lyno Vuth (Sa Sa Art Projects) with Charlotte Craw (independent researcher) by the wall text at the opening night.

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