The article below is an entry from Reaksmey Yean's (ACC 2018) #AlumniACCess post commemorating the works of the late Srey Bandaul (ACC 2011). #Alumni ACCess is a social media series featuring global perspectives from our alumni community. To learn more about the series, visit https://bit.ly/fall_alumni_access.
In his last series, Srey Bandaul (pictured below) portrays national and international political figureheads alongside apsaras and white doves offering them an envelope, alluding to and addressing the forms, acts, and intentions around giving and receiving as performed, projected, and manifested in our everyday personal, professional, and political relations.
Deploying the triadic color method, the series creates a bold and vibrant aesthetic while accentuating the envelopes’ presence in the apsaras’ hands; thus, making them a focal point and indicating their significant status in the meaning-making and narrative of this series.
Since ancient times, letters have been important communication tools, whether for private, administrative, legal, diplomatic, didactic, dogmatic, or propaganda purposes. Whatever the purposes may be, the letter not only embody a written communication between two or more individuals, but also makes and maintains contacts, provides information, gives instructions, or makes requests. Sending and receiving letters is usually practiced between people separated by distance or by social status, and is being conducted via a medium, which seems to be the embodiment of the apsaras—a mailperson, messenger, emissary, negotiator, intercessor, and/or a representative.
Srey’s acrylic paintings delineate and dissimulate concepts and currencies of giving as a form of exchange, whether social, political, economic, or market. This mode of exchange and reciprocity has anchored and maintained our contemporary economy, trade, planetary and diplomatic relations. The figureheads portrayed in these paintings are those influential individuals that dominate political arenas/theaters – either institutional, national, regional, or international; keeping a check and balance over the world power struggles.
Also represented are those that come from the nineteen nation-states that were the signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, which marked an end of the civil, and Cambodian-Vietnamese war. The works are timely as Cambodia celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the agreement itself; in other words, it is a celebration of what would be the establishment of individualism, democracy, territorial integrity, national unity, and peace.
Peace is a recurring theme and an essential framework in Srey’s praxis. Letter: Peace, Subjectivity, and Power not only address but also participate in a larger conversation on Cambodia and world peace and security, but also on peace and security in and of themselves. Srey’s works provide a rich and nuanced perspective into how diverse modes of exchange shape, and are shaped by, everyday life and politics across space and time.
Installing the apsara as a medium, female medium, into these exchanges, Srey’s intentions are to relieve his personal repentance (for not permitting his younger sister to undertake a classical dance), to invoke the apsara’s dualist theatricality—entertainment and sacrality (to honor the supernatural powers, to show off before the powers, and to unite dancers and audiences with supernatural powers)—and to derepress and release the repressed, unrepresented, and inaudible female voices in the political theater. Srey’s interest in gender issues has been present in his works since 2009, particularly in his use of sarong as part of his artistic media. As a letter medium, the apsara is the content and experience definable as neither subjective nor objective; she or they possess and are possessed (by powers), rendering them both as a representative and an author of the letter, making it unknown who the senders are, and what is inside those letters.
The viewer is tasked with either editing or composing responsibilities for letters to all the figurehead presented herein—to determine contents, course of actions, fate, and outcome. Whatever it may be, the composed letters, as they should be, are private business between sender and receiver, and will remain secret. The letters in Srey’s work, if there is any content or intentions at all, are imperceptible ones. While they symbolize the invisibility or unknowability of intentions beyond our own, they acknowledge our bondage to the transactional, transnational, and transboundary nature of giving and receiving.
 Letter: Peace, Subjectivity, and Power is an inaugural show for Srey Bandaul’s home gallery, which was intended to be a new contemporary art space in Battambang (initially it was named by the late artist “Petra Contemporary Art Space,” however, a rename/exact name will be determined by the Srey Bandaul’s family). This opening is of the Tribute Ceremony (November 20, 2021) honoring the late Srey Bandaul (1972-2021), who is also a 2011 ACC Fellow.
Image: [Portrait] ©Vila Hiek, 2018/STPCambodia Archive & [Artworks] ©Chan Pagna, 2021/STPCambodia Archive.