Khmer artist Oeur Sokuntevy explores the oppressive chaos of life in a new city through a series of vibrant and disturbing paintings, on display at Java Arts
Moving to a new city is often bewildering, as any non-native of Phnom Penh will know. Strange and disorientating concoctions of unfamiliar smells, sounds, and sights overwhelm you. Everyday interactions become confusing, even threatening. Ordinary situations are turned upside down.
In a new exhibition at Java Arts, Berlin-based Sokuntevy expertly encapsulates this sensation through a cacophony of lurid colours and Dali-esque distortion, grotesquely exaggerated figures melting into one another or unravelling into tendrils and smears of paint across the canvas. Disorientation renders everything ominous, as the faces of commuters, shoppers or picnickers are contorted into menacing scowls and grins.
Meanwhile, everyone is at the mercy of the city and its imposing infrastructure: they are pummelled and dragged by the elements or by public transport; clinging to umbrellas or the bars of the U-Bahn; suspended from the supermarket ceiling like butchered meat.
These are complex and creative compositions, with echoes here and there of Dorothea Tanning’s surrealist nightmares or Max Beckmann’s sinister pageantry. In her small but impressive collection, Oeur Sokuntevy skillfully expresses the alienation and discomfort of the vulnerable newcomer, navigating a strange and frightening city like a ghost, never feeling part of the whole. The effect is unnerving, to say the least – but also vital and compelling.
UPSIDE DOWN by Oeur Sokuntevy @ Java Arts, Sihanouk Boulevard, until 31st August