Born to a country that is close to nature and builds communities around the environment, Cambodian artist Khvay Samnang's work has a strong focus on the humanitarian and ecological impacts of colonialism and globalisation. His multidisciplinary practise also offers new views on the impact of historical and current events. Through humour and involving the local communities of wherever his work takes place, Khvay allows the work to speak for himself.
And for the audience to question their own bias, assumptions and perspectives.
What is the inspiration behind Untitled and Enjoy My Sand?
Untitled, It is inspiration that was development in a big lake that had 4000 families living there. They moved people out with small compensation. And Enjoy My Sand, it is inspiration for me when I saw and I read the news about selling sand from Cambodia to Singapore. Singapore need a lot of sand from different countries to expanse their land. Two activists had been in jail because they protested with selling sand to Singapore, there had many impact with community or people who live there.
What role does humour play in your art practise?
Before I do the art, I always spend a lot of time on research and to collect a lot of the information by going to the development area, to learn and to feel it. During my research in development area, especially in Boeung Kok Lake, I saw people moving their houses while the company was pulling a lot of sand in the lake, people need to escape from flooding, it looked like they were killing people by sand. So I used sand a symbol.
Share with us more on why you focus on the humanitarian and ecological impacts of colonialism and globalisation in your art.
I am interested in environment issues and the impact they have with small or big communities and they also impact me and the world.
Because the developing country get a lot of impact with environmental issues, I question what is the development for - for what, for who?
And we live in the same environment and somewhere that effect with it, it might effect the other too.
Why do you think it is important to engage with the local communities for your work?
It is important for me to engage with the local community in Cambodia. I need to be there to learn and research more about what happen in the local community, I am not only watching the news or listening to the news. Especially when there is a stage to work on.
The stage means to me where is place or area where the incident happened or is happening, and then involve the people, environment and atmosphere around that place or area.
Are there any observations on how different communities, such as Singapore compared to Cambodia and Japan, react to your work?
In Cambodia community, it is a bit abstract in my work but it is easy to understand about my work that use a symbol figure to tell the story about development. For the Singapore community, they are interested in my work and it is reminding them about Singapore in the past to now. And Japan, they react to my work about development issue and it remind them about climate change or environment issue with their country in the past to present.
In your opinion, will art always be relevant?
Yes, of course. Art is always relevant. I always learn and understand from place or area where I do research and something will happen to me while I am there. I never plan what I should do before.
As I mentioned before, I need to be in the place to feel it, to talk to people, to live there or to learn what affect with community with my own eyes.
I reflect with what I saw and information that I collected, I decided to use some materials or spaces around me in my art. For example, when I visited the beach in Singapore, I saw the sands there, it has different sands, some from river sand and some from sea sand. When I researched about it, I found out Singapore buy a lot of sand from Cambodia and they continue buying more sand from Cambodia, it effected with local community in Koh Sralov in Koh Kong province where have a lot of mangrove tree forest, where people can fish there for their living and where the crabs and fish live and give birth there. And I saw people in Singapore like sand, like beach and enjoy to play with it and they make fun activities at the beach. So it made me play with them and it also feel something heavy on my back, I question where does the sand come from? People in Singapore love sand and how about people in Cambodia?
They also love sand and it is important for their living and their life.