Svay Sareth’s works in sculpture, installation and durational performance are made using materials and processes intentionally associated with war – metals, uniforms, camouflage and actions requiring great endurance. While his critical and cathartic practice is rooted in an autobiography of war and resistance, he refuses both historical particularity and voyeurism on violence. Rather, his works traverse both present and historical moments, drawing on processes of survival and adventure, and ideas of power and futility. More recently, Svay confronts the idea that “the present is also a dangerous time” through the appropriation and dramatization of public monuments that hint at contentious political histories.
Svay Sareth was born in 1972 in Battambang, Cambodia during a period of political turmoil and violence that would last until he was 18 years old. Svay began making art as a young teenager in the Site 2 refugee camp, near the Thai-Cambodian border. He describes life as a refugee as “a void nationality…a time and place you imagine escaping from.” Drawing and painting became a daily activity for Svay – a process of bearing witness to the psychological and physical violence that was an everyday experience, as well as a way to symbolically escape and dream of change. After the wars ended, Svay went on to co-found Phare Ponlue Selepak, a non-governmental organization and art school in Battambang that continues to thrive today. In 2002, the artist continued his studies in France, earning the Diplôme National Supérieur d’Études des Arts Plastiques / MFA in 2009, after which he returned to Siem Reap to live and work.