On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh. Within three days, the city of 1.5 million inhabitants had been emptied. Apart from a few civil servants and dignitaries faithful to the regime, the capital became a ghost town until Vietnamese troops gained control on January 17, 1979. The city they found was devastated and without electricity; trees grew in the middle of demolished streets.
Not until the mid-1990s would the city’s reconstruction begin to restore the airy appeal afforded by its low buildings. Today, the city is undergoing a profound, anarchic transformation-against a background of real estate speculation and corruption, uncontrolled development, the destruction of the city’s architectural heritage, and the construction of massive high-rises. As the city loses its unique cachet, it is succumbing to the illusion of having caught up to “modernity” with staggering speed.
From this upheaval has emerged a rich art scene, surprising in such a small country that offers no formal artistic training worthy of the name. This singular, innovative scene is marked by strong individualities that cannot be linked to any international trends; its existence is all the more surprising for the complete absence of a local market. These artists create from deep necessity. Though some are beginning to gain recognition among the expat community, and a very few on the international scene, their expression is rooted first and foremost in the need to explore their own attitudes, identities, and stances with respect to the current situation in the country that gave rise to their creative practice.
Photography, along with dance and film, is the richest, most creative practice on the new Cambodian scene. Enjoying the momentum provided by the dynamic Photo Phnom Penh festival -celebrating its tenth anniversary this year- as well as the opportunity to meet their foreign counterparts, young Cambodian photographers have begun to use self-expression to analyze the situation in their country with a critical eye, in order to better understand the present—but also to look toward the future. In a diverse range of styles, from documentary to conceptual, they bear witness to a densely profound reconstruction which for four generations has borne the problems of memory, history, and identity. All this at a moment in time when the country is confronting the massive, every-growing pre- sence of what could be called the Chinese “invasion”.
Collective exhibition : Mak Remissa, Philong Sovan, Neak Sophal, Ti Tit & Lim Sokchanlina
Forty Years Later
Contemporary Photography in Cambodia
Friche la Belle de Mai
From June 30 to August 18, 2019
41 Rue Jobin, 13003 Marseille, France
Venue : La Salle des Machines
A proposition by : Friche la Belle de Mai, in partnership with Photo Phnom Penh and Les Rencontres d’Arles, as part of Grand Arles Express