Neak Sophal’s portraits look deep into Khmer identity, her generation’s doubts and torments.
Who are we? How can people live with the omnipresent memory of genocide?
They pose simply, enigmatic statues with faces hidden by big leaves or mundane objects.
Leaf is a series shot in Wat Po village, Takeo Province, south of Sophal’s home town of
Phnom Penh. It shows Cambodia’s rural youth, its future, who must go to the city, even to
Thailand, sell themselves to survive and send money home. Sonleuk – “leaves” in Cambodian
– symbolise the young who are indispensable to the country as leaves are to a tree.
Sophal protests silently against climate change, deforestation, and massive problems
caused by the dams on the Mekong River. She questions the widening gap between the
abandoned countryside, where land is being appropriated, and the cities, which are
growing out of control.
As Sophal says, “There’s no place for these young people in society; that’s why I hide
their faces. They can’t clearly see what’s at stake, and society at large now ignores them;
it doesn’t even see them.”
In Sophal’s latest series, Hang On, we are in Phnom Penh. Builders, students, sweepers,
fishermen, office workers, hotel employees strike the same poses as the rural teenagers.
But here, the leaves give way to objects representing each person’s occupation. Are we
identified nowadays by our job? Our social standing? The woman selling traditional headgear
is juxtaposed with the man selling baseball caps from China; ladies offer plastic
baskets or wicker utensils. Sophal highlights changes in consumption and the effects of
Neak Sophal was born in 1989 in Cambodia and is a graduate from Royal University of Fine
Arts. She is considered one of the rising talents of the Cambodian art scene with a clear and
determined vision. She has been actively involved in workshops and group exhibitions
locally and internationally over the last five years including including Angkor Photo Festival,
Spot Art in Singapore, Hong Kong International Photo Festival, Asian Eye Culture in Thailand.