b. 1980, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Vandy Rattana was born in 1980 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He studied law at the Pannasastra University of Cambodia and is a self-taught photographer. He cofounded the artist collective Stiev Selapak (art rebels) in 2007, and with them opened the alternative space Sa Sa Art Gallery in 2009, followed by Sa Sa Art Projects in 2010, both in Phnom Penh. The latter hosts artist residencies, workshops, and community-based collaborations. In 2011, Sa Sa Art Gallery merged with BASSAC Art Projects to become SA SA BASSAC. Inspired by photojournalism’s roots in bearing witness and its activist vein, Rattana has trained his lens on challenging conditions in his home country, documenting natural and manmade disasters. He also experiments with photographic abstraction and makes use of video. The project of recording and preserving is especially poignant in Cambodia, which lost significant historical archives during the violent cultural cleansing campaign implemented by the communist Khmer Rouge regime (1975–79). Rattana operates in a context in which the act of remembrance is a form of subversion.
Rattana’s photographs do not merely communicate a state of victimhood; rather, they acknowledge the processes of survival, resilience, and healing. They present a specific perspective on modernity, one in which advanced technology equates to destruction, the recovery of nature is a form of progress, traditional and vernacular forms sometimes trump innovation, and the everyday becomes heroic. Rattana does not appear in any of the photographs in his Self-portrait series (2005–06). Instead, the images portray family members in individual and group compositions, together with studies of domestic interiors that conjure the atmosphere of home. Thus the artist avoids stereotypical depictions of Cambodia as a land of temples and traumas. While he does address the legacy of war elsewhere, Rattana’s Fire of the year series (2008) deals with today’s problems by focusing on an ecological wasteland on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The meditative series Walking Through (2008–09), meanwhile, features images of a traditional rubber plantation in Kampong Cham province that capture the dignity of the laborers and the beauty of their surroundings.
Rattana has had solo exhibitions at Popil PhotoGallery (2006–07), Sa Sa Art Gallery (2009), and SA SA BASSAC (2011 and 2012–13) in Phnom Penh, and Hessel Museum of Art in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York (2010). He has participated in notable group exhibitions including Underlying: Contemporary Art Exhibition from the Mekong Sub-Region, a traveling exhibition organized by the Mekong Art and Culture Project in Bangkok (2008); Strategies from Within: Vietnamese and Cambodian Contemporary Art at Ke Center in Shanghai (2008); the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial at Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia (2009); Forever Until Now: Contemporary Art from Cambodia at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery in Hong Kong (2009); Institution for the Future, part of the Asia Triennial Manchester at Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester (2011); Documenta 13 (2012); and Poetic Politic at Kadist Art Foundation, San Francisco (2012). Rattana lives and works in Phnom Penh and Paris.