In The Breath of Change, Svay enfolds and interweaves memories and personal history with encounters of present-day Cambodia and its entanglement with foreign interest. The exhibition is anchored on the artist’s personal narratives and connotations of the water lily and sunflower plants, of which both serve as entry points for reflection of Cambodia’s precarious position as a country undergoing healing and experiencing vulnerability to foreign altruism.
Yell and Silent (2018) is an installation comprising approximately 180 soft-sculpture water lilies surrounding a central andromorphic form enwrapped in camouflage-print cotton. The work, which will dominate the majority of the exhibition space, is autobiographical in nature as it recalls a formative childhood memory of the artist. At its core, the works deals with the fundamental quandary of freedom and its cost. Freedom, and its myriad of historical interpretations, have all come at great cost and for Svay, it was an exchange of his mother’s love. In this work, the water lily is a symbol of this exchange. The work invites viewers to re-consider their understanding of freedom and its value to personal growth and betterment.
Beyond Sunflower (2018) is a single-channel video of Svay performance piece at Angkor City. In the performance video, viewers are confronted with the protagonist donned in a sunflower mask, playing the Tro (traditional Khmer stringed instrument) in a seemingly forcible fashion and producing an unmelodic high-pitch screeching sound. The Sunflower and its treatment is suggested as a metaphorical representation of an unwelcomed foreign entanglement in Cambodia. Singapore audiences would recall Svay’s performance video entitled Mon Boulet (2011) in the 2015 group exhibition, After Utopia, at the Singaporean Art Museum. It captured the attention of visitors due to its display of sheer tenacity and endurance by the artist. Beyond Sunflower is however not durational, but its urgency as a social-political piece highlights Cambodia’s voice of resistance against modern colonialism – expressions of power which are materialized by trade flows.
Svay Sareth – The Breath of Change