Sketches and wax­work de­pict the plights of lost com­mu­ni­ties

The Phnom Penh Post - - LIFESTYLE ART & CULTURE - Hong Raksmey

CAM­BO­DIAN con­cep­tual artist Sao Srey­mao’s lat­est solo ex­hi­bi­tion, Un­der the Wa­ter, doc­u­ments vil­lages once full of life, but now sub­merged in wa­ter and de­serted by their in­hab­i­tants as a con­se­quence of the con­struc­tion of hy­dro­elec­tric dams and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion in the Lower Mekong Basin.

Through dig­i­tal sketches on pho­to­graphs and a wax­work in­stal­la­tion, Srey­mao de­picts ir­rev­o­ca­ble changes oc­cur­ring in com­mu­ni­ties strug­gling to cope with the ef­fects of cli­mate change, de­plet­ing fish stocks and dam con­struc­tion along the Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong River.

“In Un­der the Wa­ter, Sao Srey­mao con­structs images of this dis­ap­pear­ance, re­flect­ing the life which was once there and now it’s gone,” says an ex­hi­bi­tion press re­lease.

Srey­mao, a grad­u­ate from Phare Pon­leu Sel­pak School of Vis­ual and Ap­plied Arts in Bat­tam­bang prov­ince, has long been a vo­cal ad­vo­cate of en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and it has played a cen­tral theme in her art.

In 2007 to 2008, she worked in en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion with com­mu­ni­ties on Kratie prov­ince’s Koh Ro-Ngeav, the largest is­land on Cam­bo­dia’s sec­tion of the Mekong.

To­day, only a few el­ders and chil­dren re­main, while most adults have moved to seek jobs in nearby prov­inces and neigh­bour­ing coun­tries due to the di­min­ish­ing fish stocks over the last decade as a re­sult of the dams.

“I have re­turned to those com­mu­ni­ties reg­u­larly in 2017 and 2018 and I was moved by the alarm­ing changes to them. The vil­lages, once full of life have be­come al­most de­serted,” she says.

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups have ex­pressed con­cern over the im­pact of dam con­struc­tion on com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing on the Mekong, say­ing it is dis­as­trous for the en­tire ecosys­tem as vil­lages dis­ap­pear and fam­i­lies are evicted in the name of eco­nomic growth and en­ergy se­cu­rity.

Among the vil­lages de­picted in Srey­mao’s art is Stung Treng prov­ince’s Srekor vil­lage, which re­mains to­day only in name as the en­tire area – in­clud­ing homes, farms, tem­ples, fish­ing grounds, river­bank gar­dens, and an­ces­tral graves – is now un­der­wa­ter as a re­sult of ris­ing wa­ters from the Lower Se­san II Dam.

While Srey mao’s haunt­ingly beau­tif ul digita l sketches over pho­to­graphs of com­mu­ni­ties now lost com­prise the bulk of the ex hi­bits, a lso fea­tured is a wax­work in­sta lla­tion.

The wax model de­picts a clus­ter of small houses and hu­man sculp­tures in­stalled on a mir­ror ly­ing on the floor in the mid­dle of the ex­hi­bi­tion space.

The model will be l it at the be­gin­ning of the ex hi­bi­tion as at­ten­dees wit­ness its grad­ual dis­ap­pear­ance, act­ing as an a lle­gor y for what is oc­cur­ring to com­mu­ni­ties liv ing on t he r iver.

“The wax­work models melt as the fire burns, sug­gest­ing a con­tra­dic­tory con­se­quence of the en­ergy source.”

Un­der the Wa­ter is sup­ported by the Dam Dos Grant by Cam­bo­dian Liv­ing Arts, and or­gan­ised in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Sa Sa Art Projects at the MI­RAGE Con­tem­po­rary Art Space in Siem Reap. The ex­hi­bi­tion is open from Jan­uary 11 to Fe­bru­ary 11.

SUP­PLIED

Through dig­i­tal ketches on pho­to­graphs and a wax­work in­stal­la­tion, Srey­mao de­picts ir­rev­o­ca­ble changes oc­cur­ring in com­mu­ni­ties strug­gling to cope with the ef­fects of cli­mate change, de­plet­ing fish stocks and dam con­struc­tion along the Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong River.

SUP­PLIED

The month-long ex­hi­bi­tion also fea­tures Srey­mao’s wax­work in­stal­la­tion.

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