Sopheap Pich – S.E.A. Focus

Sopheap Pich

Cambodia / TKG+

In 1979, when the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia led to the ousting of the Khmer Rouge regime, he fled with his family to Thailand, spending four years in refugee camps before immigrating to the United States. Memories of traveling vast distances on foot and witnessing the devastation of war — broken bodies, ravaged landscapes, abandoned artillery, and ruined buildings — underpin his sculptural practice. While Pich studied painting, earning a BFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (1995), and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1999), he turned his attention to sculpture after returning to Cambodia in 2002. In 2003, he established the artist group Saklapel, and launched the acclaimed exhibition Visual Art Open (2005) in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Pich also cofounded the alternative organization Sala Artspace, Phnom Penh (2006–07), where he taught an interdisciplinary course to a group of young Cambodian artists.

In 2005, Pich gave up painting altogether in favor of making three-dimensional objects, in a process that poetically simulates reconstruction. He draws his materials, primarily rattan and bamboo, wood, and stone from local growers and suppliers. The resultant biomorphic structures suggest scaffolding for as-yet unbuilt forms, their spare, organic geometries appealing to a Post-Minimal aesthetic. In addition to employing bodily references, the artist draws inspiration from landscape (Delta and Flow, both 2007) and architecture (Compound, 2011, Bricks Before Palaces, 2016). In more elaborate constructions from the late 2000s, Pich salvaged detritus from the trash heaps of developing Phnom Penh, giving works like Junk Nutrients (2009) a mottled, rag-tag look. In a series of wall reliefs from 2012, he returns to the format of painting, rendering hybridized, abstract compositions in materials derived from his sculptural practice by infusing burlap canvases (rice sacks) with Cambodian soils for pigments, sealing them with beeswax and damar resin, and setting them in three-dimensional bamboo grids. Since the start of the pandemic, he has been preoccupied with repurposed aluminum of pots and pans that he collects and buys from local recycling depots. Using this material, he has made large-scale works such as wall reliefs and standing sculptures, and life-size tree sculptures. In his recent wall reliefs, he has been exploring works of different scales that deals with color and the absence of color echoing his root as a painter, while also continuing to make three-dimensional objects.