Remnants of Kep – By Sasha Constable
Knai Bang Chatt to hold an exhibition of a new series of lino cuts by artist Sasha Constable
KEP PROVINCE, November 28 – The grand opening of an exhibition of a new series of lino cuts by artist Sasha Constable will be held at Knai Bang Chatt on Saturday 9th December 2017. The show will be on exhibition at the resort through to 29th February 2018.
When Sasha Constable first came to Cambodia almost 20 years ago, she had no idea what lay in store. Originally here to carry out a three week artist-inresidency, she certainly never imagined that this troubled country few know much about might be where a covertly energetic young sculptor, print maker and painter from England might find her niche and bloom as an artist, teacher and curator. For a professional stone sculptor, the extraordinary carvings and constructions of the Angkor temples exerted and exert a specific and powerful attraction. But other parts of the Kingdom played their role too.
Few parts of Cambodia so vividly chart this country’s post-independence rise, fall and resurgence as Kep. Caught between sparkling sea and green, forested hills, in a climate softened by salty sea breezes, this little peninsula certainly looks like paradise. And this was almost certainly the idea playing in the minds of those vital, modern Cambodians of the 1960s who, flush with independence, hope and a proud desire to reinvent a country, dotted dozens of white-walled villas along Kep’s gorgeous coastline.
Designed by independent architects and in some cases inspired by Vann Molyvann, the favoured architect of the surprisingly willful King Norodom Sihanouk who had negotiated Cambodia’s independence, the villas embodied an airy freedom of space and light, elegance, and even decadence, with stunning views out to sea from terraces seemingly perfectly situated for cocktail hour. It is the kind of architecture that can only be created through a perfect understanding of the environment it inhabits, and this was its ‘Golden Era’.
But less than 20 years after independence, a different kind of environment was brewing to the north of this haven, an environment bred by people who held a profound and specific loathing for everything these villas stood for. As the heady 60s closed, conflict and horror took root and ripped through Cambodia for a decade. By the end of it all, the Khmer Rouge had left little in Kep but scorch-marked walls, and barely a soul for them to shelter in any event.
Twenty-two years later, Cambodia was still struggling to find its feet again when the rangy British artist — a descendant of the champion of pastoral romanticism, John Constable — made her first trip here and was bowled away by what she found. It was not just Kep’s natural beauty, but these startlingly vivid remnants of the past whose walls seemed to echo still to the sound of Sinn Sisamouth and the Beatles playing on the gramophone, the clink of martini glasses, and rising laughter as sodden children are called in to get dressed for dinner, if only you looked and listened hard enough.
So many lives and records have been lost, and with them all the stories they could have told about who held those glasses, carefully put the record on the gramophone, vigorously dried salty water off the children, or laughed at all of life’s sudden, surprising possibilities. They never came back, even though the terraces, stripped of their tiles and roughly tattooed with lichen and cracked veins, are still perfectly situated for cocktail hour.
But the walls of those villas remain, so we can paint our own stories on to them in our minds, adding a whole new layer to their mysteries. For so long, Cambodians didn’t dare to imagine moving in to these buildings, for the obvious reason that though they perhaps appeared empty to the naked eye, they were still occupied by their ghosts.
But as Cambodia has transformed itself into a sort of economic wunderkind, Kep has bloomed back into life again, the population has grown and tourists come to bathe in the unique light, warm sea and fresh, tree-and-sea-scented air. Business is booming — in a relative sense — and ideas change.
Today, many of the houses are occupied by migrant workers whose laundry strings out across dark, sunless rooms. Other villas are festooned with richly lurid graffiti, an expression of Cambodia’s globally influenced, domestically fuelled artistic renaissance. Others remain in a romantic pose, empty and embraced by the vines that will eventually tear them down.
Constable's work integrates a diversity of materials and influences allowing her to build her creations from many different starting points and perspectives. Among her many projects, in 2003, she led a Peace Art Initiative with students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh with whom she created a series of poignant, powerful sculptures made from decommissioned weapons, mainly AK-47s; she has created linocuts of iconic artists of the 60s, especially Sin Sisamouth and Ros Sreysothea; she has painstakingly carved sandstone sculptures inspired by the temples and her own visions.
Her linocuts of these vestiges of a brief moment of a joyful hope that gripped Cambodia before the horror set in reveal their ongoing beauty and power even as they are helplessly transformed by the landscape they once reigned over.
Mr. John Black, general manager of the luxury boutique hotel, said that he was delighted to hold an exhibition that is pertinent to the regions. “In a day of modern technology it is just wonderful to see an artist use a more traditional form of printmaking that truly represents the theme of the series of work”, Mr. Black said.
About Knai Bang Chatt
Knai Bang Chatt is a boutique luxury resort located in Kep province, on Cambodia's southern coastline that is swiftly gaining a reputation for barefoot luxury as it rejuvenates guests as well as local communities.
In the 1960s the area was known as Cambodia’s Riviera, where royalty and stars mingled in private villas overlooking the Gulf of Thailand against a backdrop of lush, forested mountains. In 2003, Knai Bang Chatt became the first luxury resort to reopen in the province, with the goal of reviving its culture and economy. The resort has since invested more than $1 million in village-based development projects in the province and now employs more than 80 staff, including those who work at its adjacent Sailing Club.
Knai Bang Chatt consists of four renovated villas built in the 1970s by protégés of the father of New Khmer Architecture, Vann Molyvann, a student of the world famous architect Le Corbusier. The villas are astonishing historical landmarks that guests can now experience as private residences and suites.
For more information please visit www.knaibangchatt.com/ and join us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/knaibangchatt. For media enquiries please contact Knai Bang Chatt General Manager John Black. Email:
firstname.lastname@example.org/ telephone: +85578888552