Through Short Video, Artist Explores Lost Land

Artist Khvay Samnang’s video “Where Is My Land” was inspired by a true story, that of a woman and her grandchild who drowned in the middle of the night when a riverbank collapsed and their house fell into the river.

“Riverbank collapses can occur naturally, but also because of man-made issues,” he said on Friday. With lakes being filled in and other projects affecting the course of rivers in Cambodia, catastrophes are bound to happen, he said.

A still from Khvay Samnang's video 'Untitled' (Khvay Samnang, Sa Sa Bassac)
A still from Khvay Samnang’s video ‘Untitled’ (Khvay Samnang, Sa Sa Bassac)

“I tried to think in artistic terms and created a concept to translate the issue into artwork,” Mr. Sam­nang explained.

So last year he enlisted Nget Rady, a contemporary dancer with the Amrita Per­forming Arts dance company, to work with him on the project.

The result is a 13-minute video in which the dancer seems to emerge from a pumping machine into a filled lake, an allusion to Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake, which was filled with sand so that a development company could build on it.

“He wakes up and sees the huge field of sand as big as a de­sert and the lake replaced by mod­ern flats,” Mr. Samnang said.

“But he does not see his home that is now buried under the sand, which is why the video is called ‘Where Is My Land.’”

This video, which he completed last year, as well as two others, “Untitled” and “Air,” which he did in 2011, are being shown this week­end at the Orange County Museum of Art in Los Angeles as part of the museum’s art video se­ries, The Pacific Project.

“Khvay’s work was chosen for its rich dialogue about the current state of development within Cam­bodia,” museum director Todd Smith said in an email.

“For our Southern California audiences, Khvay’s work offers insight into the specifics of the Cambodian struggle but it also gives a commentary on the broad­er issues of development that are at play more generally across the entire region.”

Moreover, Mr. Smith added, “the work presents an intriguing intersection of video art and performance.”

Born in Svay Rieng province in 1982, Mr. Samnang studied painting at the Royal University of Fine Arts, but soon began experimenting with sculpture, photography, video art and installation pieces.

Over the past two years, his work has featured in solo exhibitions in Berlin, Singapore, Paris and To­kyo, and has also been part of group shows in Australia and South Korea.

“Untitled” also deals with the filling in of Boeng Kak and other lakes around Phnom Penh, as well as the violent expropriation of land from villagers.

“Air” is about the meltdown at Japan’s Fu­kushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant, as Mr. Samnang visited the country on an art residency shortly after an earthquake and tsunami caused that catastrophe in 2011.

Mr. Samnang’s videos will be shown at the Orange County Mu­seum through February.

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