Cambodian artist Leang Seckon will be in conversation with SOAS lecturer and art historian Dr Peter Sharrock discussing Seckon’s current exhibition, Leang Sekkon: Hell On Earth, which is being presented at Asia House by London-based Rossi & Rossi Gallery.
Their discussion will touch upon the unique and tumultuous history of Indochina – a history that both Seckon and Sharrock have experienced first-hand.
Seckon grew up during the devastating period of Khmer Rouge rule, witnessing the government-enforced policies that led to famine and disease, as well as state executions. He describes this period as “hell on earth”, when the haunting prophecies found in a set of popular 19th Century Buddhist texts, the Buddh Damnay, were realised. The prophesy said: “War will break out on all sides…blood will flow up to the bellies of elephants; there will be houses with no people in them, roads upon which no-one travels; there will be rice but nothing to eat”. This prophesy provided Cambodians with an explanation for the violence and destruction of the Khmer Rouge, placing the period within the cyclical pattern of Buddhist history.
The artist’s collages and paintings are intimate narratives of his memories from the period and the civil war that followed. The process of creating artworks simultaneously allows him to experience and express the freedom that was denied to him as a youth. However, Seckon’s work also acts as a warning: like the Buddh Damnay, it cautions against corruption and the destruction of the environment, drawing parallels between Cambodia’s present and its past.
The exhibition at Asia House features a body of recent paintings, collages and video works by Seckon, which are intimate narratives of his experiences and memories from the Khmer Rouge period and the civil war that followed.
Dr. Peter Sharrock made his first visit to Southeast Asia in 1970 as a Reuters correspondent. The war put the large Angkor temple complex out of reach and this was prolonged as Cambodia closed on itself. He finally reached Angkor in 1990, when landmines abounded and control of temples passed daily between the government and the Khmer Rouges. He obtained his doctorate on Buddhism and Imperial politics as discerned through the sacred art of the Khmer civilisation from SOAS, where he now lectures and researches.