An exhibit of work by Cambodian-born artist Sopheap Pich will be at the Henry Art Gallery Nov. 10-April 4, 2012. Compound, his sculptural installation at the gallery, was originally constructed for the 2011 Singapore Biennial, although its modular construction will allow it to become an entirely new work in its reconfiguration at the UW.
Pich immigrated to the United States with his family in 1984 to escape the brutal repression of the Khmer Rouge regime. He began his university studies in pre-med, but eventually changed his focus to art, earning a BFA and then MFA in painting, the latter at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
After working for a few years as an artist, Pich returned to his native country, observing that he “…was just tired of doing meaningless things to stay alive in the U.S. The idea of being an artist in that environment made less and less sense.”
Upon his return to Cambodia in 2003, Pich transitioned to sculpture, making large-scale structures in rattan and bamboo that suggest Cambodias basket-weaving tradition. In the artists words, “These indigenous materials have concealed strength, not unlike Cambodia. One can see through my works and yet they are almost indestructible.”
Whereas Pichs early sculptural works dealt mainly with the body—many of those lyrical structures evoke lungs, hearts, livers, or other essential organs — his recent work (like Compound) has become more architectural. At the Henry, the artist will experiment with several configurations— which will be documented and exhibited as photographs—before finalizing the installation in relation to the open architecture of the Henrys East Gallery.
Pich envisions Compound as a reflection on the cycle of building and destruction in present-day Cambodia as the country grapples with the need to rebuild itself. He draws attention to how the building of new high rises, the filling-in of lakes and reservoirs, and constant sand dredging in the main rivers around Phnom Penh contribute to modernizing the country yet consume and destroy natural resources at an alarming rate.
While in Seattle, Pich will also collaborate with the playwright/professor Mark Jenkins, artist Don Fels, and set designer/professor Thomas Lynch of the University of Washington School of Drama to design sets for a play based on the Cambodian American experience.
In conjunction with the performance and Pichs exhibit, the UWs Southeast Asia Center and the Simpson Center for the Humanities are sponsoring a public lecture, Memory, Identity, Homeland, and the Refugee Experience in the Contemporary Arts of Cambodia and Its Diaspora, and dialogue with Southeast Asian art historian Boreth Ly at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16 in the Henry Art Gallery Auditorium. Ly is an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Compound is curated by Henry Chief Curator Elizabeth Brown with generous support from Art Funds and collaboratively organized with the UW School of Drama.