Client: Soriya Warren
Location: Vientiane, Lao People's Democratic Republic
Completion date: 2014
Artwork budget: $1,500
Public Art Agent
The brief for my rice sculptures and jewellery was to explore cultural identity through traditions and cultural values of South-east Asia. Focusing on the linkage between religious rituals and their significance within society, my work highlighted the fragility of Cambodian society from a cultural and agricultural perspective. Reflecting on the deeply spiritual side of South-east Asian society had to be taken in context in Cambodian society, particularly as its religious practices became fragmented under the Khmer Rouge. My artwork conveyed this. The rice sculptures were 24cms, and, with my jewellery, were displayed on plinths at i:cat Gallery, Vientiane.
The goals for integrating commission artwork into this project were primarily to raise funds for a Cambodian orphanage and specifically to help the girls to access education. Each rice sculptures was significant because the majority of Cambodians are rural poor whose lives depend on the annual rice crop. The Cambodian countryside is the "rice bowl". The challenge for the Cambodian orphanage is having enough rice to feed the children. My sculptures became symbols of children's "rice bowl" and of their fragility. The sculptures were symbols of the country's fragility over the past three decades, and the design included metal fragments depicting landmines. Cambodia's dark period is over. New hope was illustrated by embedding fresh flowers into my sculptures as symbols of peace and new growth. My jewellery developed upon the theme of rejuvenation and restoring the strong cultural and religious traditions and practices lost during the war years. The rice and gold leaf in the jewellery symbolize the rice fields and temples. My artwork seeks to inform the viewer about Cambodia's past and its precarious future. I've sold 45 rice sculptures and six pieces of jewellery with two further commissions.
The collaboration involved in this artwork included regular discussions about my work with the Queensland College of Art (QCA) lecturer in Jewellery and Small Objects. Receiving consistent advice and support with my lecturer helped me to understand technical challenges, and developed my knowledge of contemporary practicing artists that related to my project which helped to inspire my work. Furthermore, regular peer meetings with colleagues offered different interpretations of my work and were helpful with suggestions to improve of my project. Work towards the exhibition involved thorough discussion and communication with the i:cat Gallery owner, Catherine O’Brien, in Vientiane. These consultation required consideration about the presentation of my work within the gallery space and how my artwork could communicate to the viewer through composition. Confirming the price of my work also involved creating a price list for the exhibition and artist statement. The ideas and designs for the poster and cards required a lot of discussion about the most effective way of promoting the exhibition to the public. Marking was the most important element. Lastly, setting up the exhibition required an assistant who gave advice and helped me to prepare and present my work.
My journey with rice sculptures and jewellery using rice and gold leaf is a personal one. Coming from Cambodia, this project stemmed from my quest to understand a country that was in my blood but from which I'd been taken as a child. I realized how this project reflected so many aspects of South-east Asia, and there in my own identity. The fragments of cultural traditions found within my jewellery and rice sculptures are poignant reminders of how Cambodian society became fragmented under Khmer Rouge rule, and highlighted to me how my own identity is fragmented.