Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - "Rubber Man" tells naked truth



"Rubber Man" tells naked truth

Artist Khvay Samnang poured rubber tree sap over his naked body for his new project at Sa Sa Bassac gallery
Artist Khvay Samnang poured rubber tree sap over his naked body for his new project at Sa Sa Bassac gallery. Pha Lina

"Rubber Man" tells naked truth

It was after being visited in a dream by a forest spirit that Khvay Samnang began working on his new art project, Rubber Man.

The spirit – who appeared as a white naked man – took Samnang to a rubber plantation to show him how its home had been destroyed, he explained a few days after the show opened on Friday.

“I felt it was like how the villagers who have lost their land come to Phnom Penh to protest,” the artist said.

Inspired by the homeless spirit, Samnang embarked on an unusual project: dumping rubber tree sap over his naked body, hoping to raise questions about where the inhabitants go when forests are destroyed.

More than 300,000 hectares of rubber trees have already been cultivated in Cambodia and the government hopes to more than double that in the next few years.

However, rights groups say that the deforestation destroys minority groups’ hunting and gathering grounds and places of spiritual significance along with animal habitats.

Pouring materials over himself has become something of a trademark for Samnang.

In a previous work, Untitled, he went to various development sites around Phnom Penh and dumped buckets of sand on his own head. In Newspaper Man, he covered himself in newspapers and wandered blindly around Boeung Kak, which was filled in with sand in 2010 to make way for a development.

For Rubber Man he undertook about 10 trips to Ratanakkiri, where he was filmed and photographed sans clothes in rubber-tree plantations and villages dousing himself in buckets of rubber tree sap.

“It was really smelly, like rubber, but not that bad,” he said. “Getting it off was very painful. It took two and a half hours each time to remove and it pulled out all the hair from my legs.”

Samnang said some of the villagers he encountered were disturbed by his nudity and threatened to have him arrested.

But a friend in the village who was respected for perceived supernatural powers was able to smooth things over.

Samnang said that normally in Cambodia power trumped rules. “I don’t normally have power but in this case I was able to use my friend’s power.”

The result of Samnang’s ordeals is a single-channel video and photographic series accompanied by a series of hand-carved rubberwood sculptures of threatened animals and machinery such as chainsaws and bulldozers.

Samnang said he did not want any publicity ahead of the exhibition’s opening last week because he feared it might be shut down by the authorities.

It wasn’t the political aspect of the show that would be a problem – it was the nudity.

The footage is carefully edited (the full frontal shots are obscured by the liquid rubber) but Samnang was still concerned.

“I didn’t put out any press release or anything,” he said.

Ironically, Samnang could not have completed the project without the help of a friend who owns a rubber plantation.

He said the friend admitted to him that he had done wrong by cutting down the forests but hoped that helping with Rubber Man could be redeeming.

“Most people who own the rubber plantations won’t admit they have done anything wrong, but at least he did,” he said.

The Rubber Man exhibition is on at Sa Sa Bassac gallery (#18 2nd Floor, Sothearos Boulevard) until July 12.

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • Is Cambodia’s travel sector in for another cheerless holiday season?

    The travel and tourism sector was heaving back to life as borders started to reopen, promising a festive vibe for the holidays and New Year. But Omicron and other Covid-related issues are threatening to close the year on a bleak note ‘Seems [like] Covid-19 won’

  • Hun Sen: Manet to be candidate for prime minister

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has reaffirmed that his oldest son Hun Manet will be his successor as Prime Minister if he is elected. Speaking during the inauguration of a new sewage treatment facility in Preah Sihanouk province on December 2, Hun Sen said Manet will be