We're excited to announce our newest collaboration with Neak Sophal and Emily Howe, presenting their exhibition "សូរស្រ្តី | Her Sounds." Join us for the Opening Night on Friday, August 23, and meet the women behind the project!
“Her Sounds” is a collaborative multimedia research project and exhibition celebrating the passion, persistence, and power of Cambodia’s women artists through image, sound, and story. Featuring artist portraits by photographer Neak Sophal and accompanying sound pieces created from interviews with ethnomusicologist Emily Howe, the exhibition constructs a living archive of the significant contributions women artists make to Cambodian society by documenting the perspectives of culture-bearers, innovators, and community artists spanning the nation and generations. Showcasing the artistry of traditional, classical, popular, and contemporary musicians and dancers while also illuminating the social significance of quotidian practices including social dance, ritual chant, and lullaby, the exhibition aims to spark dialogue about the art, lives, and dreams of Cambodian women past, present, and future.
ABOUT THE COLLABORATORS
Neak Sophal (b. 1989, Cambodia), a graduate of the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, has a growing reputation for her distinct aesthetic and ongoing thematic exploration of Cambodian society. Through composed portraiture staged collaboratively with her subjects, Sophal’s artwork often challenges social structures, illuminating the hidden memories and fear that animate people’s lives and identities.
Active locally and internationally, Sophal has participated in workshops and group and solo exhibitions in France, Sweden, the United States, Japan, and Australia, as well as at Angkor Photo Festival (Cambodia), Spot Art (Singapore), Hong Kong International Photo Festival, Bangkok Photo Festival, Asian Eye Culture (Thailand), Voice of Tacitness Exhibition (China), Our City Festival (Cambodia), SurVivArt (Germany), and Photo Phnom Penh Festival (Cambodia). Read more about her work at www.sophalneak.com.
Emily Howe (b. 1987, USA) is an American ethnomusicologist, music educator, and conductor who through her research and practice explores music and sound as a lens into global history and culture, as well as a means of catalyzing social change in diverse contexts. Currently conducting research for her PhD dissertation about music in Cambodia, Emily has authored publications, given presentations, and taught university courses on topics related to music education, choral music, and world music cultures, and she continues to explore issues related to global repertoires, performance, and identity in her scholarly and creative practice. Read more about her work at www.emilyhowe.info.
The arts hold a complex position in the Cambodian imaginary. While on one hand often referred to as “the soul of Cambodia,” study of the arts is sometimes dismissed as akin to “kicking air,” emphasizing its impractical, artificial nature. For women artists, this dichotomy is complicated further by the widespread belief that to earn a living as a musician or dancer is tantamount to selling one’s body. And so being a woman artist in Cambodia, as in many other contexts, requires particular courage, passion, and persistence.
And yet, despite these challenges, women artists in Cambodia fearlessly pursue their art every day, enhancing community life in significant but often under acknowledged ways – and finding joy, solidarity, and strength in the process. Listening to the stories of women artists across generations, we can hear of passion in the face of adversity, artistry in the face of pain, and pride in the face of discouragement. We can sense the genuine love with which these artists pursue their work, often with little financial reward or societal recognition. And we can learn something of artists’ belief in the significance of their art for Cambodian society, and the desire they have to transmit their knowledge to the next generation.
We can also understand how broader ideas about women in society are expressed in and navigated through artistic practice in Cambodia, and how such negotiation has been approached at different points in history. Speaking with classical dancers who specialize in the yek giant role, including Master Em Theay, we can understand how women for millennia have been taught to embody strength and rage – attributes not typically attributed to “proper” Cambodian women. Speaking with classical musicians including Master Tep Mari and young artist Maen Sreymao prompts us to consider historical attitudes toward women who play classical instruments – a practice few women learn in the present. And speaking with young contemporary dancers including New Cambodian Artists, we can learn how a new generation of artists is exploring ideas about gender through performances consciously challenging typically feminine comportment.
Thus, by exploring how societal ideas about gender are expressed through traditional, classical, popular, and quotidian artistic practices, this exhibition illuminates the place of the arts in the lives of Cambodian women while sparking dialogue about the potentials and limitations of music and dance to promote gender equality, to empower women, and to catalyze social change.
Em Theay: Master Em Theay is an 86-year-old classical dancer who grew up in the Royal Palace, where she learned to specialize in the yek (giant) role. Subsequently, she trained her daughter and granddaughter in the role; today, all three generations work professionally as dancers.
Hem Sovann: As a young woman, 71-year-old Hem Sovann moved to Phnom Penh from her hometown in Pursat province to pursue a career as a singer, performing with the biggest stars of the sixties and seventies including Sin Sisamouth. She is one of the few popular artists to survive the Khmer Rouge regime, and she continues to perform today.
Yeiy Chong: Yeiy Chong is a 68-year old woman from Oddar Meanchey who performs ritual songs with the khen (mouth organ) instrument at cremation ceremonies in her community.
Messenger Band: Comprising five former garment workers, the Phnom Penh-based Messenger Band travels around Cambodia leading collaborative song-writing projects giving voice to the challenges facing urban and rural communities.
Thorn Seyma: Originally from Kampot province, 42-year-old Thorn Seyma is a singer and co-founder of the Khmer Magic Music Bus, a community music initiative bringing live traditional music to rural Cambodia.
Srey Sokhy: 36-year-old Srey Sokhy recently relocated from Phnom Penh to her hometown in rural Kampong Thom province, where she was active as a dancer in Roam Luek Phka (“Selling Flowers Dance”) fundraising events in her community before she married.
Men Mao: Siem Reap-based Maen Sreymao is a 32-year-old expert at the rare traditional instrument tro Khmer, which she learned from her father, as well as a singer and member of the women’s drumming ensemble Medha.
Vartey Ganiva: Vartey Ganiva is a 27-year-old punk singer whose original songs discuss the realities of women’s lives in urban Phnom Penh.
New Cambodian Artists: The young Siem Reap-based dancers of New Cambodian Artists create contemporary dance theater inspired by their training in classical Cambodian dance and speaking to the issues facing women in contemporary Cambodia.