See the spiritual side of the forest
Phnom Penh-based artist Khvay Samnang is a gifted multimedia storyteller whose work never fails to leave his audience inspired. His latest exhibition in Thailand titled "A Forest Of Spirits" is on view today until Oct 31 at Nova Contemporary gallery on Ratchadamri Road.
Here he introduces to the audience Preah Kunlong, which emerges out of the artist's engagement with the Chong communities of Areng Valley in Cambodia's Southwest.
To better understand the nature of his work, one has to go back to 2014. It was the year the Cambodian government hired the Chinese company Sinohydro to construct a string of dams across the country as part of a large scale infrastructure project.
One of these dams was to be constructed on the Areng River, a tributary of the Mekong. Because this would result in the flooding of the surrounding valley forcing the relocation of residents and livestock, large-scale protests against the building of the dam were held by the Chong community, monks and civil society activists.
So strong was their movement, that it lead to the Cambodian government's decision to cancel the project.
It is within this time frame that Khvay begins to work with members of the Chong community, to develop what would eventually become Preah Kunlong.
His journey takes him through a multitude of experiences, each of which would become an integral part of his exhibition. The artist leaves no stone unturned when it comes to understanding the community's ritual practices that often included invoking sprites.
Through the course of these encounters with locals, he develops a series of masks made from local vines -- a technique the artist introduced -- that represent a group of non-human beings that were central to the cosmology of the Chong people.
He then collaborated with a traditionally trained dancer and choreographer Rady Nget to produce an interpretive dance in a number of sacred locations around the valley.
Through this, the artist points to a multi-naturalist conception of the world through these indigenous cosmologies, and invites the audience to imagine how it would be to inhabit these worlds.
The current exhibition brings together video work, vine masks and photography, which emerged from these collaborations he formed with the Chong people, along with a series of newly commissioned brass masks, being shown for the first time.
Nova Contemporary opens daily (except Mondays) from 11am-7pm. Admission is free. Visit novacontemporary.com.