Born in 1987 in Phnom Penh, Tith Kanitha lives and works in Phnom Penh. She holds a BA in Interior Design from the Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh (2008). She is a member of the film collective Kon Khmer Koun Khmer and assists numerous film productions made in Cambodia. Tith’s first solo exhibition Companions was hosted by French Cultural Center, Phnom Penh (2011). Group exhibitions include Hut Tep So Da Chan, SurVivArt, House of World Cultures, Berlin (2011), Art of Survival, Meta House, Phnom Penh (2008), and Still Water, Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, Phnom Penh (2009). Tith was a participant in The Flying Circus Project: Memory, Archives and Creation (2009).
Anita Sharma: Can you tell us about the Seasons of Cambodia In Residence program and how you became involved with it?
Tith Kanitha: The residency’s goals were for us to learn, to work and to discover the artwork in New York. I was selected by the curators of Season of Cambodia, Erin Gleeson and Leeza Ahmady. Erin is the Artistic Director of SA SA BASSAC in Phnom Penh and she knew of my work. She showed several artists work to Leeza and they selected 10 visual artists to participate in SoC.
AS: You studied interior design at the Royal University of Fine Art in Phnom Penh and later transitioned into working with sculpture and installation art. What influenced this shift in your art practice? Can you talk about your method of working with wire to create organic sculptures which seem to be a common thread in your work?
TK: The Shift from Interior design to Art: I was involved in the Selapak Neari Art program in 2007 founded by LinDa Saphan. My first art piece was an installation, Mean Rup Mean Tuk -With A Body Comes Suffering- 3 stools with different everyday materials representing the man, the woman and the child all spray painted white and gold. This was very unique and ultimately different in the Cambodian art scene, as I have never seen it. I always thought that to be a visual artist you had to be a painter, drawer or sculptor. I then discovered another way of being an artist.
All my artwork has a common thread of freedom in the way I approach the topic or the art piece. To be free from what society expect an artist to create or used material.
The sculptures are free-form conversations between me and the material. I don’t try to push the shape of the wire too much – the wire guides the shape.
AS: For your residency at Transparent Studio you are creating a sculptural installation showcasing objects that are often “hidden” or considered taboo and unearthing them in a public space. Can you talk about the significance of this act of revealing?
TK: Since being in New York, I became aware of the similarities of being human. Despite our cultural differences, we all share the same features, we all have good and bad feelings, we all have joys and secrets.
We also have in common objects that we find disgusting. Underwear can have a sexual appeal when it is clean and once dirty it is seen as appalling. I wanted to show that we are not all “clean” or “good” but all that does not matter. To the eye of the child, they are seen as neither a sexual object, nor a clean or dirty object. Once hung in a different manner, the child sees another shape, another color not the dirty or clean underwear.
Calling attention to taboo, for me, means breaking the wall – I confront the shamefulness – not to be ashamed. To be seen in a different way through the eyes of a child.
AS: Performance is also an important aspect of your art practice. How do you normally conceive pieces and what are the types of realities you are exploring?
TK: For each artwork, I do not think in term of medium. It comes naturally to me. My first performance was in 2010. I did not know about performance as an art form I just want to do it. I place several terra cotta stove on a wooden platform covered by a wire net. I began to smash one into pieces.
I can’t make a division between participatory art and performance. I consider the work I made at Bose Pacia participatory – because I approached friends to give me their used underwear (as well as my own) to display in a public space.
AS: Has the open studio process opened up new possibilities or challenges for your art practice?
TK: This residency gave me the opportunity to articulate on my own art creation as a philosophy. It allowed me to think in a manner that I always did but was never able to pinpoint it. This art philosophy was anchored in that I believe the importance of thinking like children. A child is both clever and silly. I am now more than ever truly convinced that life seen through the eyes of the child brings new perspectives. Making art is was/still/will be important to me as breathing. My approach art is like a child, I hope to be as clever as him/her and as whimsical and silly.
I have found my own voice, my own words to talk about my work.
I feel that I am able to take ownership of my artwork and understand where I am within the larger art community beyond Cambodia. Working at Bose Pacia allowed me to feel how many possibilities there are out there. As I was creating in the space, it felt like sitting in a garden with open blue skies: the skies as my canvas full of potential. There is a great freedom to do whatever I wanted without any constraint from anyone at all. This is truly a unique experience for me.
AS: What would you like New Yorkers to know about your work?
TK: I don’t have any expectation for New Yorkers other than causing a reaction of being surprised by my work. I have seen many passersby looking in surprise to see my installation piece. I feel that if I can surprise and startle New Yorkers who known to be jaded, then I have succeeded.