It’s a tall order to be described as a ‘Renaissance Man’ but Serey Siv is a tall man. He seems to have the qualities required for such a label: curiosity, perseverance, self-discipline, a thirst for new experiences and understanding, a risk-taker, an acute awareness of history, the constant need to keep learning, and the ability to be surrounded by strong and smart people.
He has certainly accomplished much in his young life. Born in Canada he found his way back to his mother’s homeland of Cambodia. He has been a teacher, a J-pop recording artist in Japan, a barista and owner of a cafe, an exhibited photographer, a skateboarding aficionado, an academic of music, and now a co-owner of an active art gallery and design studio called Mirage Contemporary Art Space. Regardless of the many countries where he has lived, he displays a keen sense of timing for his next exploration.
It is the quiet tenderness he displays to his parents that intrigues me, not because I have my own grown son who remains my closest ally and friend – but because embracing the story of one’s parents is a sign of maturity. Serey’s parents are always at the Mirage’s events and even strangers can sense the deep admiration they share with each other. He pays tribute to his mother in a photo series made during the Angkor Photo Festival and Workshop 2017 under the tutelage of Sim Chi Yin.
After surviving the Khmer Rouge Regime, my mother fled Cambodia to a Thai refugee camp. After more than 2 years, she was finally granted permission by the Canadian government to move to Canada at the age of 23. She spent 24 years in Canada, and decided to return to Cambodia in 2006.
With this photo project, I wanted to show the duality between my mother’s pride in being both Cambodian and Canadian. Bathing her outside her house represents, in Khmer culture, gratitude and respect for all the things she has done for me since I was born. Although her ways and mind are deeply rooted in Khmer traditions, she also proudly cherishes her Canadian side. The mementoes in this series were collected during her time in Canada over the years.
Serey Siv is a mixed-media artist and visual storyteller who has been exhibited in Cambodia, Japan, and Thailand. He has explored mixed-race Cambodian children and second-generation Cambodian diaspora living in a photo project called “Language Barrier“.
He also refuses to shy away from disturbing cultural trends in Cambodia.
Meth Addiction in Siem Reap
All over Cambodia, crystal methamphetamine have reached small communities and villages. In SIem Reap, children and teenage addicts are arrested in masse prior to major public holidays or high-ranking officials’ visits in order to protect the city’s image, pregnant women are thrown in pre-detention centres disguised as drug rehabilitation centres, families of jailed addicts pay high fines that put them in life-long debt. The Cambodian government claim their newest policies on drugs were a success but many organizations such as Human Rights Watch condemn the anti-drug campaign.
Serey Siv considers skateboarding an art. In Siem Reap he and friends converted a shipping container into a ‘coffee skateboard’ where the locals could gather and get new boards. He continues to share his passion by organizing workshops and events with the youth of the city.
Understanding that play is work (and vice versa) he echoes the voice of Lady Allen (Marjory Allen, Baroness Allen of Hurtwood (née Gill; 10 May 1897 – 11 April 1976) who spent her life promoting child welfare and creating Adventure Playgrounds so that children could learn to take risks and pleasure in getting dirty. When she arrived in New York in 1965 to introduce her playground concept to America, my father met her at the airport and introduced himself to the elder woman who carried a skateboard under her arm. She road it down the airport corridor and out into the city.
Serey Siv is in touch with the demanding youth in Cambodia. He is also in touch with the influence art is having on the nation. As a major force behind the Mirage Contemporary Art Space, he and his colleagues are stimulating, attracting, and retaining artists in Cambodia.