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Exhibit grapples with question of Phnom Penh’s identity

A layered photograph by Miguel Jeronimo of the casino Naga 2, a symbol of opulence, over a Cambodian woman. Photo supplied
A layered photograph by Miguel Jeronimo of the casino Naga 2, a symbol of opulence, over a Cambodian woman. Photo supplied

Exhibit grapples with question of Phnom Penh’s identity

For one group of artists, the rapidly changing face of Phnom Penh raises the question: what is this city’s identity? Their multidisciplinary exhibition Identicity, curated by Portuguese photographer Miguel Jerónimo, seeks to adress that question.

“The whole idea of the exhibition is talking about how the urban landscape of the city shapes the identity of the people that live there,” Jerónimo said.

To that end, he has compiled illustrations by artist Lolli Park; a portrait project by Syahrulfikri Salleh; audio recordings by Bernadette Vincent; photos and a video installation from the White Building Collective’s “Humans of Phnom Penh” project; sculpture by Eng Rithchandaneth; papercut works by Lauren Iida; and paintings by Rena Chheang. The opening on Sunday at Meta House will also feature a screening of the short film Cambodia 2099 by director Davy Chou.

“Having half Cambodian, half expat artists is a way to have a more diverse dialogue,” says Jerónimo, who in addition to curating is also exhibiting some of his photographs, which layer images to highlight the contrast between Phnom Penh’s glitzy and rapid urban development and the city’s poorer inhabitants making a living on the street.

“People from the rural areas come to live in the city. What is their experience with the urban habitat, and changing life?” he says, explaining the themes of the exhibition.

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One of portraits on display by Syahrulfikri Salleh, who depicts people he meets around the city in brief encounters. Photo supplied

Much of the work focuses on the physical structure of the city, such as Rithchandaneth’s sculptures of mushrooms, which are meant to symbolise urban development. Other pieces focus on the people, such as Salleh’s portraits, made as part of a “social practice” in which the artist drew somebody he interacted with on the street but otherwise had no relation with – like a street noodle vendor. Salleh then gifted a copy of the portrait to the person in an attempt to “break the isolation” the city can create.

Painter Rena Chheang, meanwhile, drew from her experience at a nonprofit working with street children for her seven paintings – representations of emotional states conveyed by dripping streaks of paint over bisected busts.

“The dripping gives it a depressive vibe to it,” she explains.

Jerónimo’s concept for the show began as just a collaboration between him and Chheang, but the pair decided that it would be more interesting to incorporate a range of voices and, on opening night, have a participatory dialogue from 7pm.

“The idea is to use the exhibition as a trigger: OK, what’s life in Phnom Penh? How is it shaping the relationship of people? . . . How is Phnom Penh shaping our existence in the city?”

Indenticity opens on Sunday at 5pm at Meta House, #34 Sothearos Boulevard with the screening of Cambodia 2099 scheduled for 7pm. Support came from the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Foundation.

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