Arts of Southeast Asia Magazine by Dr. István Zelnik

Arts of Southeast Asia Magazine by Dr. István Zelnik, featuring Garden of Desire, the designer and jeweller. Volume 1, Issue 3, July-August 2020

I would like to share with you my pleasure in bringing to your attention the third issue of this new international art magazine, Arts of Southeast Asia, launched earlier this year, and a novelty on the international art magazine market. This issue is the first of the Asian art magazines to cover the full scope and range of a field of art that has, until now, almost entirely escaped international attention: contemporary art in Cambodia.

Our ambitious plan is to introduce you to the Cambodian contemporary art scene, which we consider to be so new, so exciting, so colourful and creative that this issue is only the first in a series.

However, we don’t just want you to come to know and love it, we also want to promote these predominantly young artists by publishing albums and organizing European exhibitions. It is well known that in the European sense, modern art was born here in the mid-1920s at the Indochina College of Fine Arts that was founded by Victor Tardieu in French Indochina with the intention of introducing western art and techniques, and with that the journeys of a new generation of Western artists began.

However, the cruel winds of history have meant that the emergence of modern and contemporary art in Cambodia has been very slow and difficult, with many losses and tragedies. The struggle for independence against colonial rule, the Indochina war with America, the Khmer Rouge regime and the ensuing civil war shattered this process and destroyed artists, so now the world can only meet the works of the third and fourth generations. The work of previous generations is almost entirely lost, with hardly any works of art surviving from the 1930–2000 period. In this current issue of Arts of Southeast Asia, we feature several artists who spent time in the Khmer Rouge labour camps as children but, due to lucky circumstances and selfless international assistance, escaped from refugee camps into the West, to the United States and France before returning to their roots in Cambodia as adult artists. 

There is so much to be found in the now very diverse modern and contemporary art of Cambodia: the traditional line of the glorious historical past and the revival of classical traditions (Angkorian landscapes, modern depictions of the Buddha, mythical gods), the quest to revitalize traditional Khmer art in Cambodian contemporary art, a return to nature and the embracing of its values, but at the same time modern trends that present human and social problems, traumas, dangers and the search for new ways that point in new directions, too. Revel in this rare cultural-artistic outlook! 

Dr. István Zelnik,

Editor, President of the Editorial Board