Architect-Turned-Artist Takes Sculpture Series to Bangkok

A trained architect and self-taught artist, Thang Sothea emerged on the Cambodian arts scene just six years ago. Since then, he has experimented with painting, sculpture, photography and fashion.

His latest series, “Devata”—a continuation of his first sculpture project, “Manu”—opens tonight at the cultural center Alliance Francaise Bangkok.

 

Thang Sothea poses in front of his latest sculpture series, 'Devata.'
Thang Sothea poses in front of his latest sculpture series, ‘Devata.’

Though both “Manu” and “Devata” comprise slender metal figures in hemp dress, Mr. Sothea has sought to portray a more angelic state of being in his latest series, which takes its name from the Hindu word for deity.

“Sculptures from before had eyes closed, but sculptures for this have eyes open,” the artist said in an interview this week.

The clothing and crowns worn by the figures in “Devata,” he said, are inspired by the forms of Angkorian buildings and meant to evoke a sense of divinity.

Just as he did with “Manu,” which was exhibited at The Plantation hotel in Phnom Penh in March, Mr. Sothea plans to dress a man and woman in clothing that resembles that worn by the statues for the premier of “Devata.”

The idea came from Mr. Sothea’s interest in clothing design.

“I have ideas to [design] dress for boys and girls, but I’m not doing it now. I just think maybe one day I will try it. I cannot say [when], but I think about it,” he said.

Until this year, Mr. Sothea’s primary medium has been paint.

Upon graduating from Norton University in Phnom Penh with a degree in architecture and urban planning in 2007, Mr. Sothea threw himself into his career for several years, but found himself overwhelmed by the workload and decided to take a year off.

“It’s not that I stopped liking architecture work, I just want[ed] a break,” he said. “I want[ed] to try something new.”

His hiatus began with an odd request from a French friend to produce large, erotic paintings for a resort in Siem Reap City. Encouraged by an opportunity to turn his hobby into a career, Mr. Sothea created six large paintings, using canvas for the first time.

This was just the beginning. Mr. Sothea went on to create the series, “Happy Together,” a collection of colorful paintings depicting the male body and sexual fluidity.

After finishing the project, Mr. Sothea said that several of his friends suggested that he submit it to local galleries. He took their recommendation and, to his surprise, Phnom Penh’s Meta House was eager to display it.

“They are excited to show my work, so I thought to myself, ‘OK, now it is time for me,’” he said.

Today, Mr. Sothea balances his various artistic endeavors with freelance architecture work. Since “Happy Together,” he has exhibited six series, which he describes as being very different but simultaneously interconnected.

“I notice myself when I do every series, I do something a bit like it. But I need to continue. I want to add more, do more,” he said.

Mr. Sothea acknowledges that his art is not for everyone.

“But if they like it, then that’s a good chance for me to show something and share,” he said. “The big thing for me is that art is freedom. And I think it’s a freedom of the viewer also.”

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