Brilliant Ideas Episode #42: Sopheap Pich
Weaving Memories and Creating Freedom
In 1975, under the name of establishing a communist society in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge emerged. Although the radical reform was stopped after four years, the massacre which resulted in the process left the country in great pain. Sopheap Pich was one of the refugees who fled with his family to a camp in Thailand and to the U.S. to survive.
Terrible memories such as the devastated scenes and countless bodies piled up that he watched on the long road to safety, relying on only his two feet, made a strong impression on him. His experience has led to multi-dimensional art expressed with bamboo and rattan. Brilliant Ideas Episode #42, presented by Bloomberg and Hyundai Motor, features Sopheap Pich, who tells us a striking story about his homeland Cambodia.
Rooted in memories
The Khmer Rouge is a significant context which must be mentioned when talking about artist Sopheap Pich. The artist also affirmed that his works were in some ways related to the Khmer Rouge. Ironically, Pich does not define this period as terrible. He even says the time means much to him because he had been on the road and every memory about the incident is related to his family. From his father he also learned how to survive and protect his family and confirmed affection from his family and neighbors on the road, and this made him realize everyone’s love.
One example is <Morning Glory>(2011) in the form of a full-blown morning glory, which was one of the staple diet in Cambodia. It was also a primary food for Cambodians during the time of poverty led by the Khmer Rouge. By demonstrating this iconic flower with elastic lines, the artist drew the importance of survival, love, and living with others.
In this way, Pich creates sculptures related to his memories. He regards that, if he makes works unrelated to his memories, the works will not answer the questions rising or existing in the memories, and it is a success if his work allows him realize anything about the memories. That is, the experiences should be remembered through the works, as he believes a piece of art is more helpful than a long and elaborate description to feel genuine things.
Connecting people, memories, and environment
Having studied art in Chicago, Pich came back to Cambodia in 2004 and he suddenly declared he would not paint any more. As painting went well with Chicago, it did not reflect the environment of Cambodia and did not operate properly for him in an artistic manner. This shows that Pich considers environmental elements when selecting subjects and materials of his work. The materials that caught his eyes were rattan and bamboo, Cambodian specialties. He started to make artworks with them by using the Cambodian traditional weaving techniques. Soon, rattan and bamboo became more than simple materials for his works.
After adopting rattan and bamboo, the artist felt liberated from the existing art history and started to escape from the idea that the final results should have certain concepts and meanings. Being freed from the conventional point of view based on art history, he made further experiments on what more he could represent in the final results and his capacity in exploiting that freedom. He also believes that the state of Cambodian society is complicated enough that he does not have to add to the artworks any political or decisive comments. Pursuing autonomy of art in such way, Pich rejects artworks providing too many visual clues.
Pich’s works are opened up by free ways of thinking. He also hopes that the viewers would realize something important in the environment and be connected with it, which is why he weaves bamboo and rattan. To him, weaving into something is therapeutic and necessary in life. That is why he describes the experience of treating bamboo and rattan often with the word, “joy.” ■ with ARTINPOST
<Luminous Falls No. 2> 2013
Bamboo, rattan, wire, burlap, plastics, beeswax, damar resin, charcoal, bronze powder, copper powder 79×79×3in.(200×200×8cm)
Bamboo, rattan, plywood, and metal wire installation
<Morning Glory> 2011
Rattan, bamboo, wire, plywood, steel bolts 210× 103×74in.(533.4×261.6×188cm)
<Silence, Version 4> 2009
Rattan and wire 24×22×8in.(61×56×20cm)
<Buddha 2> 2009
Rattan, wire, dye 100×29×9in.(254×73.7×22.9cm)
Woodblock print; water-based ink on paper 79×42in.(200.7×106.7cm) Edition of 25, 2 Aps
<Jayavarman VII> 2011
Rattan, plywood, burlap, glass, beeswax, charcoal, spray paint 66×36 ½×22 ½ in.(168×92×57cm)
Bamboo, rattan, metal wire 99.25×78.75×4in.(252×200×10cm)
Bamboo, rattan, wire, burlap, plastics, resin, beeswax, damar resin 99×79×4in.(251×200×11cm)
<Rang Phnom Flower No. 5> 2016
Rattan, metal wire 128×63.75×26in.(325×162×66cm)
In the 1970s, Cambodia had a hard time than ever because of the Khmer Rouge. This period when many Cambodians were slaughtered, Sopheap Pich also fled to the U.S. and studied art there for the first time. However, the artist could not dispel the memories of his childhood in Cambodia. Eventually in 2004, he returned to his hometown with the desire to find a connection between himself and Cambodia. He started to make works using regional products with rattan and bamboo as the main material along with traditional weaving techniques and thanks to these works, he has become an international artist representing Cambodia.
Sopheap Pich was born in 1971, in Cambodia and now lives and works in Phnom Penh. He had several solo exhibitions including exhibitions at the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The artist also showed his works at the ‘6th Asia Pacific Triennial’, the ‘Singapore Biennial 2011’, and ‘Documenta 13 (2012)’, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and many other international exhibitions and biennales.