“Our civilisation is confronting a descent to catastrophes”: Artist-Activists Adana and Tyta On Their New Show
We caught up with the Cambodian artists behind “Complementarity” – a joint show that draws on painter Adana’s social activism, photographer Tyta’s creative endeavours, and a shared interest in social harmony.
Cambodian artists Adana Mam Legros and Tyta have put together an unusual show, pairing paintings with photography. The joint effort, “Complementarity”, derives from painter Adana’s social activism and photographer Tyta’s creative endeavors, both hoping to highlight the importance of social harmony.
Wednesday’s opening at Rosewood Art Gallery will be a star-studded affair, with fashion designers Romyda Keth (Ambre) and Eric Raisina presenting capsule collections and performances by Laura Mam and DJ Marie Thach. What’s on Phnom Penh got a chance to quiz Adana and Tyta for a hint of what to expect at the show, what driving forces brought it to life and what brought them to art.
Adana Mam Legros
WOPP: Adana, you’ve been exhibiting for a while now. How did you get your start?
Adana: I left Cambodia after my baccalaureate to pursue law and political science studies in France. My third year of law school was interrupted by the discovery of cancer. That period was a total transformation, revolution of thought, spirit and body. Re-questioning everything from the self to the world, to our society and our system.
After my treatment I decided to go to New York to make my first exhibition. I wanted to close this long and difficult chapter of my life with art. In 2018, I inaugurated “My RenaiSsance’’ exhibition in Manhattan. It took me three more months, sailing across the Mediterranean with my father, to realise my true purpose. The pursuit of the dream to become an “art activist”.
WOPP: You’ve already shown in so many big cities. How have those shows shaped your experience as an artist, or art activist?
Adana: Each show was a fight. Each show was a message to give. Each show was a moving experience. Each show has concretised my philosophical thoughts, matured my art and grown my capacity to lead as well as building a vision of my future career.
The art world is tough, it’s competitive, it’s rough. It taught me to be stronger, keep my head high, remember my goals, and plan six months ahead. It taught me to work fast and efficiently. Those shows also taught me to find balance in the work and the passion.
It also showed me how art can affect and impact a person’s life.
WOPP: How did you and Tyta come up with this project, and how long did it take to plan and get everything in place?
Adana: End of 2019. Latitudes magazine did a cover on me and presented me to Rosewood for a future exhibition.
I came up with the idea of “Complementarity”. I knew this opportunity was important. I thought about adding another female artist to join the exhibition. It is important to show women in the art world in Cambodia. I chose Tyta for her talent, her youth and her representation as Cambodian woman. It took us a couple of months to deepen the concept and work on the collaboration.
WOPP: Tyta, I understand you’ve been very busy lately. What are some things that you’ve been up to, and what drove you to this project with Adana?
Tyta: I recently did a shoot for Yak’s new collection and right now I am preparing for three more projects. This project came about one afternoon at the pool. Adana had contact with the gallery at Rosewood and she thought that it would be a good idea to collaborate on a project together. It was a good opportunity for me, and I used to shoot with Adana before. Moreover, I also related a lot to her painting so I felt that there is a good energy between us so we proceeded to do this project together.
WOPP: Is this your first exhibition?
Tyta: This is my first exhibition as an artist. I had exhibited before in London as part of my university’s study.
WOPP: How is it as a photographer to work with other visual artists, such as a painter? Does it change how you approach photography?
Tyta: It is a very interesting experience for me as I’ve only worked solo. I definitely learned many new things both about myself and my craft. The original idea for this exhibition was to combine Adana’s painting and my photography into one piece so I had to compose my work more carefully in order to leave room for the painting. However, there were some changes and so now we are presenting our work under a common theme instead. Since this is a collaboration, we have worked together on the concept of each photo that I will be exhibiting. It is very cool to work with Adana. I find that we often have very good ideas and are able to take each other’s ideas to a different step.
WOPP: What makes you most excited about what you are exhibiting in this show? What should we look out for?
Tyta: I am excited to see how the audiences will receive my work. I hope to see a mix of reactions coming from them as the subjects in my photos are mostly friends so I am expecting a lot of smiles and laughter. I think the only thing to look out for at the moment is the size of the photographs as this is the first time I have decided to show my work on a big scale like this.
WOPP: Cool! And Adana, what should the exhibition goers expect from this event?
Adana: My goal as an artist is not to make beauty as beauty is already around us. Through my art, I’m looking to question our societies concepts of life, work, time, self, purpose etc. I want to invite the public into a personal introspection. I seek to bring about philosophical reflection on many different subjects. This exhibition is a wakeup call. The topics we’ve chosen is the representation of my project, “Complementarity – Convivialism”. The thematics we’ve chosen are the values of what Generation C stands for.
WOPP: What is “Generation C”?
Generation C is a social and artistic movement promoting a social shift. Replacing in the centre of our selfish society, the art of living together. This movement is creating responsible, ethical, aware world citizens. Our civilisation is confronting a descent to catastrophes. It’s time to listen to scientists, experts who are announcing the worst to come. There is a preparation to have, starting from the individual to a collective level. Each of us should be aware of our role in society. We are living a transformative period and it is the crucial time to seek for a convivial society.
WOPP: What’s the next step for you (perhaps once Coronavirus is done)?
Adana: This pandemic won’t stop my projects nor my action. For me, it is actually a reason to work even harder to accomplish significant change. I’m already planning my next exhibition in London.
WOPP: And Tyta, we hear that you’re going to have another exhibition later this year. Can you give us a little teaser? And what will your next moves be beyond that?
Tyta: Yes, you are right! My next exhibition will take place in November 2020 at Sra Art Gallery. I will be collaborating with two talented artists: painter Donvirao, who is currently exhibiting at Sofitel at the moment and graphic designer Jean-Baptiste Carraro. This exhibition will consist of three different mediums: photography, painting and graphic design – exploring the concept of birth, life and death in the monochrome spectrum of black and white only. I usually work in colours so this is definitely a new challenge for me. I honestly don’t know. Let’s see where this flow takes me but I am always open to new opportunities.
“Complementarity” opens Wednesday, September 9, 8pm, Rosewood Art Gallery. The exhibition is free and open to the public through January 10, 2021.
[Ed. note: This interview came from two separate conversations, but we’ve put their responses together here for readability. No context or content was changed, though.]