Painting History

Opening reception, May 8, 1999



The first two exhibitions at Situations presented groups of artists framed by underlying themes. Our third exhibition presents a single artist who has prepared new paintings specifically for this show. These five canvases by Pech Song aim to recollect each of the regimes of the last thirty years under which he has lived and painted. To prepare such an exhibition has proved difficult since few painters working in Cambodia today are economically able or willing to prepare a complete body of paintings following a coherent line of thought. Most painters are compelled to work on commission for a tourist market which encourages the production of a few canonical repeated images rather than individual explorations of present lived experience. Our hope in preparing this exhibition is that we help in the process of developing more coherent and complex bodies of work.

As a first step in this direction, the exhibition raises more questions than it answers. How can a painted surface contain all the richness and complexity of lived history? What does it mean to use styles associated with propaganda and popular culture when representing real historical events? How do representations reconcile official historical accounts with individual memories, especially when official pictures are so dominantly cited and recycled? The challenge of making such paintings is to avoid polemic and political posturing while giving the recent past the visual presence that it deserves. Because of its ability to 'recreate reality', painting serves as an important channel through which historical facts can be opened to their emotional, psychological and individual dimensions. This raises larger questions. What place is there for a painter and his/her work in Cambodia today? What critical attitudes and answers can be provided through art work? What roles and what duties should contemporary art have in relation to the problems and challenges facing Cambodia today?