Inspired by Recycling in Japan, Sculptor Turns Waste Into Art

In his new exhibit, “Waterworks,” which he created using rubbish collected off the streets, artist Phe Sophon seeks to communicate the impact of waste on the environment and what it means for the residents of Phnom Penh.

The 32-year-old’s show, which opens today at The Asia Foundation, consists of 15 works formed from the same materials: metal wire, glue and blue-capped plastic water bottles.

Thousands of water bottles make up artist Phe Sophon’s latest work exploring rubbish and its impact on Phnom Penh’s environment and residents. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

When the bulbous works are arranged and viewed from a specific angle, they form the Khmer letters for “Phnom Penh,” the artist said.

The inspiration for the exhibit came from a visit to Japan, where Mr. Sophon saw extensive recycling of waste items.

Referring to Phnom Penh’s trash pickers, he said, “The people in Cambodia pick up rubbish to survive, but the people in Japan take the waste to produce something else.”

The more than 5,000 water bottles Mr. Sophon used in the three-dimensional installation were picked up from the capital’s streets and waste bins.

Mr. Sophon started by talking to trash pickers, who sift through trash for bottles and cans to sell and cover their daily expenses. The artist offered them a little over $5 for every 200 bottles collected—higher than the market value of about 10,000 riel, or about $2.50, for the same number.

The artist also got his hands dirty, going about the city as a trash pickers himself. During his days spent collecting from gutters and rubbish piles, Mr. Sophon experienced brutal discrimination from other people, he said.

The exhibit runs until: 

June 28 at The Asia Foundation

#59 Street 242, Phnom Penh.

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