Cambodia's Pich Sopheap on the international art stage | Asia Pacific

Cambodia's Pich Sopheap on the international art stage

Cambodia's Pich Sopheap on the international art stage

Updated 4 October 2013, 15:03 AEST

Internationally-acclaimed Cambodian artist Pich Sopheap is in Australia, his sculptural works showing as part of a series at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in Sydney.

Pich, who fled the killing fields as a boy of seven, to Thailand and then, the Philippines, before being resettled in America, where he made a name for himself.

Pich Sopheap's work has been shown at some of the most prominent venues, but he's returned to Cambodia, working out of his studio on the banks of the Mekong river.

Shortly before the opening of his show at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in Sydney, Pich Sopheap spoke of his love of rattan and bamboo.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Cambodian artist Pich Sopheap. Pich Sopheap's sculptural works are on show at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in Sydney, until 14 December

PICH: My early education was in painting, but I moved to Cambodia in 2002. After staying in Cambodia for two years, I stumbled on rattan, to make a sculpture. So I made my first sculpture in rattan and I just fell in love with it. And then I discovered bamboo, to go with the rattan, to strengthen parts of the sculpture, and it just resonate.

LAM: What are some of the qualities inherent in these media, bamboo and rattan that drew you to them in the first place?

PICH: It was the physical contact. Rattan and bamboo - first you have to split them and shave them and cut them, to make the size - what you need for the scale of the

sculpture that you make. So I started making small sculpture and then I started making big sculpture, because I wanted to test the ability of that material. The second factor probably has to do with just being in Cambodia, because the two materials are the most used, in terms of functional, daily agrarian culture, which is where I was from.

LAM: As you say, you like using rattan and bamboo and some of your sculptures, if I may say are quite stunning - with obvious references to rural activities. I'm thinking of one that looks like a fish trap. Was that a conscious decision on your part, to draw on the rural influence?

PICH: For that particular one, Yes. I think fish traps are beautifully made. I've seen it in other countries also, when I travel, like in Thailand or Vietnam. And even just looking outside of the bus window, into the landscape, you see all these things stacked up. I live on the river, so I often see them floating on boats. They're just beautiful, so I thought, "It's a beautiful shape, I'm attracted to that form. What if I make a sculpture that could have the possibility of referencing the other things in my life?"

LAM: You of course have exhibited at some of the best galleries in the world, even at the Metropolitan of Art in New York. What about back home, are you recognised at all in Cambodia - do people know you?

PICH: I think the people who care about art know me. It's a small country and for the audience of art, it's even much smaller. So of course we know each other. I'm not sure who else knows me - I never really bother to wonder.

LAM: You're also considered to be Cambodia's most internationally-prominent contemporary artist. Do you feel the weight of responsibility there?

PICH: That's a good question. I don't often get asked that. To be honest, I think I'm responsible to myself. I don't think I'm responsible for Cambodia. No, I try to make work as best as I can, and continue.

LAM: Art is not usually considered a viable career option - do you encourage people who might be considering taking up art as a career?

PICH: No, I encourage them to draw and to do their homework. As you said, it's very difficult to make a living as an artist. It's very difficult for your parents to understand why you choose it. It's also very easy to dream, to be a dreamer - the idea of being an artist, but it's very difficult to find where to begin. So in Cambodia, particularly, most parents know (think) their son should be a monk and then they should be a doctor.

LAM: Having left Cambodia since you were seven, you say you've been living there now for the last decade or so.. what connections do you feel with the country of your birth? It has had a fairly tumultuous history over the past four decades.

PICH: It's something that is in my blood. My memories were from there. Even when I lived in the US and did all my education there. As an artist, I think my mind was still on

that childhood memory and so, when I went back (to Cambodia) it's even more complicated, because I could be perceived and I have been perceived as an outsider and all the issues that come along with someone that... the so-called runaway who came back .. that I somehow have more opportunities and things like that. I came back to my home, I wanted to find my voice, my way of making a living. And all the complications for me, is something that I believe is in my work and it's essential to it.

LAM: You said earlier you would encourage people to be seduced by the idea of being an artist - and you are an artist and a sculptor. Are you making a comfortable living with your work - do you find that with you, it was the right path to take?

PICH: Yes, I had no other choice really. I'm glad you used the word 'seduced'. I was seduced art from a very young age, and there was no way I was going to do anything else. As far as being comfortable, No, absolutely not. Anyone who knows me, comes to see me, where I live, where I work .. they think I've done pretty good for myself, for a few people working with me, but I'm certainly not comfortable.

LAM: With being easily the best-known (contemporary) sculptor that Cambodia has ever produced, do you a certain sense of responsibility to promote, not just the art form, but also to encourage Cambodians to pay attention to the more ethereal aspects of their lives, in the face of such rapid development of their nation?

PICH: I think what you're talking about is imagination, perhaps inventiveness? And learning to accept and to live with the conditions, but don't give up hope, because i think.. I don't everybody to understand all the sculptures I've made. I can barely understand all of them myself. But I think what most people get out of it, and what they're excited about is a sense of energy about them - energy and lightness - that's what's needed, if you live in a country like Cambodia.


Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.