SOPHEAP PICH: I feel it’s the material that gives me a voice. Material is kind of a necessity, as an identification.
I grew up as a young kid on a farm. My parents have always been farmers. Actually, I’m the only one with a college degree. I’m used to just it being around, and I used to make these things with my father, you know; fish traps, and catching frogs and snakes, and stuff like that. I think I’m a realist. My art is real. I’m making real objects. There’s nothing abstract about it.
The old rule of thumb in a Cambodian art school is, ‘Think before you do’. I say, ‘Well, do before you think’. In art you can actually do before you think. And that’s the intuitive part, like playing.
When I made Compound, it was the poorest time in my life, also. My studio was on the lake. Then we got the news that, you have to move out. They buried the lake with sand and then they built a new city inside of it. That was when I started to think about, oh, you know, nothing is secure here; you can get kicked out. So it was some feeling about destroying something in order to build something, and I kind of like the idea that an artwork can be transformed already after you make it. That piece is called Compound, so it’s kind of free to be whatever it is.
The environment affects the way I work and the way I think. I live here. I don't live anywhere else. I like to think slowly, I like to do things slowly. Because that’s our way. This is how Cambodia works.
Sopheap Pich has a recognisable signature style: working with thin strips of rattan and bamboo to create sculptural forms. His work engages with personal histories, traumatic events, and the enduring culture of Cambodia by using traditional materials and craft techniques.
Sopheap Pich’s return to Cambodia in 2002, after about twenty years in the United States, triggered a new direction in his art, as he moved away from painting and began creating sculptures out of locally sourced bamboo and rattan. Working with local craftsmen, he devised a latticework method reminiscent of woven bamboo baskets and fish traps.
His modular sculpture Compound can be combined in an infinite number of ways—each time it’s exhibited it takes on a different configuration. Produced at a time when Pich’s home city of Phnom Penh was undergoing rapid urbanisation, the rectilinear forms of Compound serve as a poignant commentary on the constantly changing cityscape.
This video was originally published on M+ Stories.
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