Image: ©Phearun Yin/STP Cambodia, 2022

Cambodia shut down for two years due to the pandemic. No tourists. No jobs. Even Angkor Wat and the many temples sat silent while playful monkeys scrambled like children at a playground, squealing in their private antics. Siem Reap emptied as businesses closed and residents moved back to their villages, hoping to find enough fish to feed their families. Many moved to Phnom Phen to regroup while ex-pats, who had made Cambodia their home, returned to their native countries to wade out the struggles.

Reaksmey Yean, a young art scholar, advocate, art curator, and writer, had just become the Program Director at សិល្បៈត្រជាក់ភ្នែក Silapak Trotchaek Pneik // by YK Art House in January 2020. Using his trademark tongue-in-cheek gallantry, Reaksmey energetically focused on the renovation required to transform the space into an inviting contemporary art platform.

Silapak Trotcheik Pneik (STP) and Reaksmey Yean were aiming high.

An emerging art space, STP operates as a semi-commercial and semi-community art gallery. Founded in 2019, STP is determined to be more than just another gallery space for space’s sake. It is a site for Cambodia’s diverse cultural community, championing contemporary art as a catalyst for critical discourse, social cohesion, and cultural discovery. STP will showcase the best in local work, as well as a carefully designed and sustained program of public engagements and knowledge sharing. Under the leadership of our program director, Reaksmey Yean, STP strives to be Cambodia’s premier and fully commercial space for contemporary art within five years.

The Gallery’s name is derived from the intersection of the Khmer word “art,” silapak, and the name of a defunct art collective, Trotchaek Pneik, literally meaning “cool eye.” The double entendre of the name Silapak Trotchaek Pneik, “cool eye art,” means “beautiful art” or “art that pleases the eyes.” It aims to showcase, promote, and support works marked by originality and experimentation in diverse mediums and themes, and will make quality and excellence in the practice and appreciation of contemporary art its core driver. Its diverse programs include collaboration with local and international stakeholders and collectors, exhibition tours, and knowledge-sharing initiatives (namely, artist talks and panel discussions, art and writing workshop, and art history and philosophy lectures). STP will work hand in hand with practicing artists, art appreciators, collectors, the local and intellectual community, and its patrons to establish itself as a new hub for viewing art and learning about contemporary ideas and theory. It will bring contemporary art into mainstream consciousness by appealing as much to art lovers as to newcomers.

STP believes art is one of the essential pillars of sustainable, educational, social, and economic development. In addition, one of its main missions is to amass forces and resources to establish an Arts Center – an organism that is yet to manifest within Cambodia’s cultural landscape and art ecosystem.

Silapak Trotcheik Pneik

Covid won the first round. Health restrictions slammed Silapak Trotchaek Pneik (STP) down before Khmer artists could hang their work. The Covid outbreak of February 20, 2021, forced the kingdom to undertake the strictest measures seen since the end of the civil war in 1998.  Curfews and temporary closures of all nonessential businesses, including galleries and museums were enforced.  Finally, on December 20, 2021, Cambodia’s prime minister announced the end of the restrictions.

Reaksmey Yean is now making up for the lost time.
With the collaboration of Richard Koh Fine Art, A bold new show entitled WINGS OF TOMORROW reveals a series of new paintings by Pen Robit.

Like Frida Kahlo, Mexico’s beloved artist, Pen Robit’s paintings are auto-biographical – each one depicting a memory or reflection of an unexplainable horror or political/cultural issues in his home country of Cambodia. His paintings are symbols and metaphors of a past that bleeds into tomorrow. With stark simplicity, he paints pain and anguish, even dark humor. Strong brush strokes and vibrant colors etch out spiritual deaths behind living faces. Even a painted pair of boots speak loudly.

Artist’s Statement

This series, Wings of Tomorrow, has its genesis in my lifelong fascination with the concepts of and the correlation between power, military, governmentality, and subjectivity. It imaginatively and observationally explores and expands the notion of “order,” be it organization and disposition, harmony and control, directive, and class. In and of itself, this notion is embedded with two antagonistic forces, if not a dualistic function or binary system, of positive and negative, of life and death, of beauty and ugly, of power and weakness, of real and imaginary, and of utopia and dystopia. In a spatiotemporal sense, these Oil on canvases both represent and constitute what might be considered as the manifestation of these paradoxes and as well as a terrain in which these paradoxes are at play.

The formulation of Wings of Tomorrow-scape, twenty-four paintings, has its painterly beginnings in two pieces, Military Boots and Still Life, which all are “still life” in their own rights, or at least in their compositional semantics. Setting against colorful and melancholic backdrops of an imagined and unidentifiable space, the central subject matters, black boots and blue vase with flowers, embody both strength and fragility, stability and tranquility, and, to me, memorialize what I would say the present absence of death, of which colors justify and formalize its beauty and presence. In Khmer linguistic proper, a flower is always associated with the conception of femininity or representing the woman themselves. This cultural embeddedness implies a correlation between weakness and woman, who, in this sense, are subject to domination, obviously by the masculine forces: pen, text, and male gaze. In this series, however, flowers are not women, and they cannot be. Instead, in this body of work, flowers provide an onset of beauty and life.

Wings of Tomorrow’s landscape is predominately coated with bright and primary colors: red, blue, and yellow, the genesis of all color palettes and color schemes, and the endless possibilities and imagination. In this landscape, I attempted to experiment with colors, their possibility and their permissibility, and as well as with my newly found interest in figurative painting. After a long period of playing with line and dripping techniques, this is my second time exploring figuration and including the form into my creative repertoire. My interest in figurative work could be a return to realism or a real-world instead of abstractionism. While realism may be a premise in this series, it was/is not my attempt to have my works obtain a realistic or naturalistic appearance. Indeed, the real and the imagined informed my creative approach to the twenty-four canvases, which in and of themselves scrutinize what is real and what is not.

Pen Robit

កញ្ចក់ | The Mirror, 2020.
ពណ៌ េ្របងេលើ្រកណត់ | Oil on canvas, 75 x 55 cm.
បង្អែមពេលយប់ | Night Dessert, 2020.
ពណ៌ េ្របងេលើ្រកណត់ | Oil on canvas, 130 x 130 cm.

Pen Robit’s new paintings are timely.

Uncertainty hangs heavily over the world and much of the world is uncomfortable with uncertainties. His exploration of business and military themes extend far beyond his own nation’s destruction and point directly to current events worldwide. The naked female figures beg the viewer to see them as human despite their placid faces. Will femicide and genocidal rape and murder also ride on the wings of tomorrow?

There will be those that are uncomfortable with the questions Pen Robit’s paintings pose, and that is how it should be. We don’t like addressing uncertainties or death, especially our own.

Ironically, we expect security as a human right. We hide our failures. We bury our past. We try and control the future. We spend small fortunes on the self-help industry’s books and workshops to help us think positively and get motivated. We reduce big questions down to bit size affirmations, tricks, and seven-point plans.  Our visual diet is social media images imploring us to think big, dream bigger, banish our grief and our sadness, Positive thinking means All Things Are Possible!

Our false belief that we should feel happy is precisely why we feel miserable. We create our separateness because we refuse to see our interconnectedness.

Wings of Tomorrow implores us to think differently.  The paintings demand us to embrace uncertainty. They tear down the walls between our barriers between ourselves and everyone else.  They invite us into mystery.

Pen Robit (b. 1991, Battambang) lives and works in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Robit’s work attempts to represent

Cambodia’s past, present, and future socio-political fabric. He draws influences from Cambodian cultural iconog-
raphy as well as ongoing societal discourses.

He has been selected as an artist-in-residence for the following: OzAsia Festival (ADELAIDE) Australia (2016);
Peninsula Austronesia International Art and Culture Exchanges in Taiwan (2015); The Memory Workshop with
Vann Nath & Séra Ing, Bophana Center, Phnom Penh, Cambodia (2009); Southeast Asian Workshop, Tep Seri
Sok Sopha Studio, Chiang Mai, Thailand (2008). Solo exhibitions include: Out Of This World (2020), Richard
Koh Fine Art Malaysia; Beyond (2018), Tribe Cambodia, Siem Reap, Cambodia; Thread (2018), Sa Sa Art
Projects, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Krama (2013), Romeet Gallery, Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Untitled (2012),
Romeet Gallery, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Silpak Trotchaek Preik

Pen Robit and Yeaksmey Yean are both from Battambang and have lifelong ties to Phare Ponleu Selpak. This is true for many of the artists in Cambodia. Phare’s school and the Phare Circus have served as fertile ground for young Khmers to enjoy a lifelong love affair with art. Pen Robit graduated from the school, became an instructor, and a performer in the Phare Circus.

Cambodia is still aching from the death of Phare’s teacher and co-founder, Srey Bandaul. On August 4, 2021, Teacher Srey Bandaul died from Covid.

កិចបជុកំពូល  | The Great Meeting, 2022 ពណ៌ េ្របងេលើ្រកណត់ | Oil on canvas, 120 x 150 cm.20.

ស្វ័យប្រវត្តិ | Autocrat, 2020.
ពណ៌ េ្របងេលើ្រកណត់ | Oil on canvas, 150 x 120 cm.

្រសារា្រតី| Late Night Drinks, 2020.
ពណ៌ េ្របងេលើ្រកណត់ | Oil on canvas,110 x 75 cm.

ែស្បកេជើងទាហាន Military Boots, 2020. ពណ៌ េ្របងេលើ្រកណត់ | Oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm.

ដេណំ ើរេឆ� ះេទមុខ | Progressivity, 2020. ពណ៌ េ្របងេលើ្រកណត់ | Oil on canvas, 120 x 150 cm.

្រទ�ង្រកហម |The Red Cage, 2020.
ពណ៌ េ្របងេលើ្រកណត់ | Oil on canvas, 75 x 110 cm.

Scroll to view and enlarge the Wings of Tomorrow paintings.

Pen Robit has been selected as an artist-in-residence for the following: OzAsia Festival (ADELAIDE) Australia (2016);
Peninsula Austronesia International Art and Culture Exchanges in Taiwan (2015); The Memory Workshop with
Vann Nath & Séra Ing, Bophana Center, Phnom Penh, Cambodia (2009); Southeast Asian Workshop, Tep Seri
Sok Sopha Studio, Chiang Mai, Thailand (2008). Solo exhibitions include: Out Of This World (2020), Richard
Koh Fine Art Malaysia; Beyond (2018), Tribe Cambodia, Siem Reap, Cambodia; Thread (2018), Sa Sa Art
Projects, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Krama (2013), Romeet Gallery, Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Untitled (2012),
Romeet Gallery, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

An upcoming February 2022 exhibition is scheduled at Rosewood Phnom Pehn hotel’s gallery space.

Contact Information:

Silapak Trotchaek Pneik (YK Art House)
13A St. 830 Phnom Penh, 120101
Kingdom of Cambodia

STP Facebook

The Wing, 55 x 75 cm, 2020 from Wings of Tomorrow by Pen Robit.