CAMBODIA: THE LAND OF THE LEPER KING
paintings by Mark Halliley at Pictorem
In Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, “tourist sights” include the torture centre S-21, (from the time of Pol Pot’s murderous regime 1975-1979) in the premises of a suburban High School. In the former classrooms now cleaned of all blood and stench, you see row after row of photos of victims: 14-15,000 of them, photographed before they were tortured. Once they had “confessed”, they were dispatched by night in trucks to the countryside nearby. Today’s tourists often follow the same route, to the local Killing Fields execution-site of Choeung Ek. There, you see some 10,000 skulls with cracks and holes in them, piled high in a memorial, some arranged according to the implement used to smash them in- hammers, clubs, farming-tools. They were seldom shot, as firing was noisy, and bullets cost money.
In Cambodia, I also met some very remarkable people who lived through the worst excesses of the rule of Pol Pot. Like the artist Bou Meng, one of the survivors of S-21, spared as he produced a good likeness of Pol Pot. He now bears witness to Cambodia’s holocaust. Or, the teacher and Angkor guide Ponheary Ly, who as a girl survived one of Pol Pot’s murderous slave-labour camps. She now heads an internationally-acclaimed charity (www.theplf.org) that helps the poorest of the poor get an education, from primary school right through to graduation- helping to rebuild Cambodia.
Among the ancient temples of Angkor, is The Terrace of the Leper King: a clay mound, and beneath it, a narrow walkway, lined with row after row of smallish sandstone figures- gods and goddesses, dancers and angels, kings and protectors. Carved some 900 years ago, many are well-preserved. But many are cracked- some, battered and smashed. Some were never finished. All have outlasted mines, bombs, tanks, conquests, invasions, foreign occupation, famine, torture, mass extermination, switches of religion (Hinduism, Buddhism), the rise and fall of empires. They are all lepers, all kings. On top of the mound, is a large replica statue of a figure academics say is Yama, the Lord of Death. Local legend says it’s the Leper King, who ruled despite being consumed by his disease.
In these representational paintings of old carvings, I have tried to express something about survival and memory in modern Cambodia.
Mark Halliley www.markhallileyart.com Feb 1 2017
LOCATION The Stone Space, 6 Church Lane, Leytonstone E11 1HG Oct 16—26. The gallery is 2 mins from Leytonstone Tube (Central Line)
OPEN Sat 12-5 Sun 12-4 Thurs 2-6 Fri 2-6
CURATORS CreativeBloc at www.thestonespace.wordpress.com
MEANING(S) Rust versus gloss. Real v digital. Form v time. Use v abuse. Finds v losses. Salvage v rejection. Life v death. Memory v oblivion. Beauty v prettiness. Protection v indifference. Survival v all odds.
MATERIALS Used sandpaper. Wrecked shoes. Old bottle-tops. Discarded cardboard. Hardened paint-rollers. Exhausted exhausts. Plus fragments from belongings of late loved ones eg chair of artmaker’s unforgotten brother, paintbox of artmaker’s unforgotten mother.
I put my trust in the materials that confront me because they put me in touch with the unknown
This portrait of the poet the late James Berry was auctioned at a fund-raising event held in his honour. I was honoured to meet James when making a film with the writer Malorie Blackman. By then he suffered from advanced dementia. He had come to the UK on the boat after the Windrush, to escape the “barefoot” life that was his future in Jamaica. Much of his work focuses on the experience of being black in Britain. This image of James, based on a photo taken the day we filmed him back in 2005, appears with fragments from some of his poetry- most especially from the collection FRACTURED CIRCLES.
The Book of the Dark
The Book of the Dark, a series of poems by Mark Halliley, has been made into a unique artwork by calligrapher and artist Rosalind Wyatt. See:
Sample text from The Book of the Dark:
Not dreaming just sleeping not daring to dream
Not dreaming just sleeping but sleep’s not what it seems
Just sleeping not dreaming going nowhere by night
Not dreaming just sleeping curled up far too tight
Not dreaming just sleeping so you can sense shadows move
Just sleeping not dreaming of any kind of love
Not dreaming just sleeping but not resting in peace
Not dreaming just sleeping no fire and no ice
Just sleeping not dreaming of hell or paradise
Not dreaming just sleeping with the brain null and void
Just sleeping not dreaming the sheet over my head
Not dreaming just sleeping the sleep of the dead
Just sleeping not dreaming of laughter or tears
Not dreaming just sleeping for years and years
Just sleeping or just seeming to be lost in sleep
Not dreaming just sleeping without sinking too deep
Just sleeping not dreaming or that’s how it seems
Not dreaming just sleeping not daring to dream
I have recently been working with found objects and combining them with encaustic. This is a detail of STRENGTH AND SHIELD from a series called PROTECTORS.
STRENGTH AND SHIELD started with finding what I think is an old hub cap on a skip. The metal bar I dug up. The rest is beeswax either with or without pigment added. Many cultures have favoured having talismanic/ protector images somewhere near the entrance of the home to ward off intruders and ill fortune.
YOUR FACE IS AS A BOOK
A commission for the Nightingale Care Home for elderly people in Clapham, YOUR FACE IS AS A BOOK was a drawing project comprising over three dozen portraits in charcoal and chalk, each drawing 75 x 55 cms. The project was completed early in 2013.
I was one of several artists who responded to a call to submission, facilitated through the care home by artist Rosalind Wyatt. My aim was to combine the drawings in some way with the spoken words of the sitters, to give them a voice- and to give the onlooker an idea of the life they had led up to this point.
I was working in a unit where most of the residents are in moderate to advanced stages of dementia. Some could not speak at all, some spoke in fragmented ways, some could sustain more of a structured conversation. Whatever they said, I took it down and wrote it on the drawings. I also drew some of the staff.
This has been a significant experience for me and during it, I have often thought of my own mother, who suffered from dementia towards the end of her life and died in a nursing-home.
Twenty of the portraits have been framed, thanks to an anonymous donor, and have been hung by the Timothy Taylor Gallery at the Nightingale.
www.nightingale.org.uk for more info on the Nightingale
www.rosalindwyatt.com for Ros Wyatt’s artwork
www.livingwords.org.uk for other work, by Susanna Howard of Living Words, with people who have dementia